Bears boys top Na Alii, move into first place
WAILUKU – The biggest goal of the year for the Baldwin High School boys soccer team came about two minutes after giving up what could have been a season killer.
The Bears got goals from Jaren Otani in the fifth and 37th minutes to beat King Kekaulike 2-1 in a key Maui Interscholastic League match on Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium.
Otani’s first goal might have been the most important as it tied the score after Jake Jacobs had given Na Alii the lead in the third minute.
“They came out firing, we were on our heels a little bit – we didn’t start off well – but when that goal came in it really pumped us up, got us started again,” Otani said. “We knew we weren’t going to give up, we weren’t going to back down. We knew we just had to keep fighting and find the equalizer.”
Baldwin is 7-0-2 (23 points) with matches left against Lahainaluna, St. Anthony and Maui High – teams that have combined for four wins. King Kekaulike fell to 7-2-1 (22 points) with matches against Kamehameha Maui (6-0-3, 21 points) and St. Anthony remaining.
Otani’s first tally off a free kick allowed the Bears to relax against Na Alii. The wind direction that usually heads toward Wailuku town was instead going toward Kahului Harbor.
“I knew we were going against the wind and the wind was a huge factor,” said Otani of his first goal. “It dipped in (to the goal) towards the end. That was huge, that changed the momentum big.”
Otani’s second goal came three minute before halftime when he tapped in a pretty pass off a header from Nick Lawrence.
“We can see the path, but we still have three more games,” Otani said. “It’s not over yet. We just have to keep going to the very end.”
Both defenses were tested.
Baldwin goalkeeper Benjamin Wuthrich made back-back stellar saves on a shot and rebound by Jonathan Dahilig in the 27th minute to preserve the tie at the time.
Na Alii’s Micah Tateishi blasted a shot just wide left in the 39th minute. King Kekaulike goalie Cameron Baker made a nice save in the 45th minute. Tateishi again had a near goal in the 52nd minute when his shot was tipped by defender Matthew Foronda to Wuthrich.
Lawrence fell down on a breakaway in the 58th minute. Otani nearly completed the hat trick in the 62nd when his rocket shot got past Baker, but went over the crossbar.
King Kekaulike’s Alex Fredericksen denied Lawrence on a sliding tackle in the 65th minute and Baker made a diving save three minutes later.
The heartstoppers came in the final six minutes off the foot of returning MIL co-Player of the Year Lionel Mills. His blast from 30 yards just missed the upper-left corner in the 74th minute and his 26-yard free kick after a handball in the final minute was snuffed by Wuthrich.
Last season, Mills’ goal in the second meeting between the Bears and Na Alii got past Wuthrich in a similar situation, giving King Kekaulike a state berth and leaving the Bears home.
“Whenever we play with King K it is always a physical battle,” Baldwin coach Kane Palazzotto said. “Those last shots by Mills – you were here last year – he did the same thing to win.”
King Kekaulike coach Ryan Arakawa knows his team must win twice in its last two matches to return to the state tournament.
“Both teams came out ready to play today – we expect that out of Baldwin, they are always going to bring their ‘A’ game,” Arakawa said. “We prepared the boys all week just to play this game. They played with all their hearts and I’m glad they played to the end. Baldwin’s tough, but now we just have to find six points in the last two.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com