PUKALANI - It was like old times for the Baldwin High School basketball team on Tuesday night at King Kekaulike Gym.
The Bears (9-0) clinched the Maui Interscholastic League Division I regular-season title and a spot in the state tournament with a 53-37 win over King Kekaulike (5-4).
And behind a fast-break offense started by the rebounding of a standout defensive lineman and finished by a lightning-quick guard, it could have been 20 years ago for the Bears.
Baldwin High School and King Kekaulike players battle for a rebound in the second quarter of the Bears’ 53-37 victory over Na Alii on Tuesday night at the King Kekaulike gym.
The Maui News / MATTHEW?THAYER photo
Pasoni Tasini of Baldwin boxes out King Kekau-like’s Jacob Havron on Tuesday night at Na Alii’s gym.
The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo
With University of Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauhaahaa - a former football and basketball standout and football coach for the Bears - in the stands watching, current all-state football player Pasoni Tasini grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and scored seven points. Guard Gabe Ross could have been the late Ray Wilhelm, who was often on the receiving end of Kauhaahaa outlet passes for the Bears two decades ago.
Ross took several long passes from Tasini to start the break on his way to 22 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter when he put the game away by going 6-for-7 at the free-throw line.
"(Clinching) gives us an edge, but we still want to play hard and work hard in practice," Ross said. "Pasoni was real big on the boards, he has a lot of determination when the ball is coming off the rim."
MIL BOYS Standings
Baldwin 53, King Kekaulike 37
Kamehameha Maui vs. Lahainaluna at Lahaina Civic Center, 7 p.m.
King Kekaulike at Maui High, 7 p.m.
The game was epitomized by one key play to score the first basket of the third quarter - Tasini grabbed a rebound, turned and fired a court-length pass to Ross, who scored for a 35-25 lead for the Bears with 7 minutes, 47 seconds to play. Na Alii would not get closer than seven again.
Baldwin sophomore Teva Eldridge added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Na Alii were led by Jansen Agapay's nine points.
Tasini said he will take an official football visit to Salt Lake City this weekend, one week after he was in Corvallis, Ore., visiting Oregon State. His decision appears to be down to Utah and OSU, although he also has offers from Nevada-Las Vegas and Hawaii. National signing day is Feb. 1.
That means the Bears will be without Tasini on Saturday when they host Lahainaluna (5-3) and made clinching the regular-season title and state berth perhaps more important on Tuesday. Tasini missed a win over Maui High last weekend, but he helped the Bears to a 25-15 advantage on the boards Tuesday.
"When I go, all I think about is the boys," Tasini said. "I don't want to let them down because it is my last season. I love playing with them, so it is hard for me to leave. It feels good to clinch."
Baldwin coach Wayne Gushiken said wrapping up a state berth with three regular-season games to play is big.
"We told our kids that we want to maintain our momentum and not let down," Gushiken said after the Bears improved to 19-3 overall. "We didn't want to have to build back up going into the MIL tournament. If we lose this one, mathematically everybody had a chance to come back."
King Kekaulike coach Bill Naylor said his team will be ready for the league tournament. Na Alii beat the Bears by three in a preseason game, but lost all three MIL contests against them.
"We haven't found ourselves yet and when we find ourselves, we are going to be darned good," Naylor said. "I told coach Gushiken that before the game started. I would have hoped this would have been the game where we found ourselves. We did a good job defensively, I thought we did a real good job defensively all game. We are having a little trouble right now getting the ball in the hole."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
Kody Takushi 6, Gabe Ross 22, Nuikane Corpin 0, Jeremiah Badillo 0, Ryan Garces 4, Brad Bowlin 0, Pasoni Tasini 7, Teva Eldridge 14.
KING KEKAULIKE (37)
Jansen Agapay 9, Alroy Ferreira 6, Chase Iwata-Bartelme 6, Keita Naito 8, Jordan Mauliola 0, Jacob Havron 2, Gabe Gunter 6.
King Kekaulike....11...... 8..... 6.....12-37