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HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER
Aiea clinches state berth
Aiea's best weapon was quiet most of the night. Then she struck without warning.
Ambree Ako didn't get a lot of scoring opportunities, but made the most of her best one. The junior forward scored on a second-half breakaway, thanks to a perfect lead pass by Tobi Kanehira, to give Aiea its only goal in a 1-0 win over Kailua last night.
The win at Pearl City's Bino Neves Field advanced Na Alii into the semifinals of the Oahu Interscholastic Association girls soccer playoffs. More importantly, Aiea secured a spot in the state championships.
"There's a lot of pressure off, that's for sure," Aiea coach Gordon Matsuoka said. "It's our eighth year in a row that we made states, so we've been fortunate."
Being healthy qualifies as good fortune for Aiea.
"That's the key since we don't have a lot of depth," Matsuoka said.
Ako ranked third among OIA West scoring leaders with 14 goals during the regular season. She was held scoreless in her team's 1-0 win over Castle on Wednesday, and went 69 minutes without a goal last night. But she came through when Kailua's defense got caught flat-footed on a perfect pass.
"If we got one goal in, I knew we'd be confident," Ako said. "Tobi turned, and the defender lost me."
Kanehira, who nailed a game-winner against Castle the night before on a last-second shot, read the defense perfectly. "Their defense kind of stopped. Ambree was running sideways, and they were just watching me," she said.
Aiea (10-1-1), the No. 3 seed from the West, will meet Pearl City, a 1-0 winner over Kapolei last night, at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at Kaiser Stadium.
"Aiea's a good team. I thought it might be a runaway. They've got two of the best players in the state up front," Kailua coach Wil Kimura said. "But we hung in there."
Kailua, the No. 2 seed from the East, dropped to 6-2-3. The Surfriders still have a shot at the OIA's fifth slot in the state tourney.
"It's been a great run so far. We still got one more chance," Kimura said. "I think the team will be fine. What they've done already is amazing."
Kailua lost seven starters from last year's squad.
"I never expected us to be here where we are," Kimura added.
Both offenses were stifled in the first half. Kailua's best chance to score came at the 38-minute mark, when Michelle Yoshida took a pass in the middle of the box and tapped a shot from less than 10 yards out. It was an easy save, however, for Aiea goalkeeper Shareyn Muneoka.
Halftime was somber for a second night in a row.
"Coach said we weren't playing as hard today. We're used to the ball bouncing right because our field is better," Kanehira said.
Matsuoka knew his team needed time to adjust.
"With this field, we had problems with our passing, and the girls couldn't get their footing. Our field is better only because it was recently renovated," he said. "The second half was a little better."
Aiea persisted early in the second stanza. Ako squirmed into the box and took a shot from just 5 yards away, but Kailua's goalkeeper deflected the attempt. Then came the lone goal midway through, and Kailua never rebounded. Aiea got another good scoring opportunity, but Kanehira's attempt from inside 20 yards was deflected.
Pearl City 1, Kapolei 0: Chelsea Arakawa scored on a bone-crushing play in the middle of the box at the 32:30 mark as the Chargers outlasted the Hurricanes.
Pearl City, the No. 1 seed in the West, improved to 10-0-1 and qualified for its 16th state tournament berth in a row.
Kapolei (7-4-1) will enter a playoff for the league's fifth state berth.
The host Chargers controlled the first half, but didn't strike gold until the final minutes. Keilyn Tanimoto sent a lob into the center of the box, where Arakawa attacked. In mid-air, Arakawa took contact from a Kapolei fullback and sent a header 10 yards into the net as goalkeeper April Due challenged. Due and her fullback collided on the play, but incurred no serious injuries.
That was all Pearl City needed. The Chargers controlled the tempo and the ball the rest of the way.
Pearl City coach Frank Baumholtz was relieved.
"They came out with just one forward to go with four halfbacks and five fullbacks, so we just took it to them," said Baumholtz, now in his 16th season. "Kapolei played a great game, but the only shots that were close were direct kicks."
Aiea presents similar problems. "They like to play boom ball like Kapolei," Baumholtz said. Pearl City beat Aiea 3-0 when they met in the regular season.
"We had three good opportunities in that game, and we capitalized," Baumholtz said.
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