By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo kept peppering Megan McCain with shots. She dove to her right and she dove to her left to make saves. When the balls did bounce, for practically the first time this year they didn’t go the Lady Vulcans’ way.
A renaissance soccer season largely built on perseverance likely ended with a cruel reversal of fortune. The 1-0 loss Saturday to BYU- Hawaii on Senior Day at UHH baseball field was the apparent final blow to the Vulcans’ postseason hopes.
“We’re done,” director of soccer Lance Thomas said of UHH (10-4-2, 7-4-1 Pacific West Conference), which entered the day ranked eighth in the West Region. Six teams will be selected to reach the playoffs.
McCain repeatedly stonewalled the hard-charging Vulcans after Makelle Yates scored in the 60th minute for the Seasiders (8-4-2, 8-3-1), who won their eighth straight match.
The Vulcans, who lost the first time in more a month, were on the wrong end of a 1-0 score for the first time this season. They’d found a way to survive their previous five such contests.
“We won this kind of match all season,” Thompson said of his first year with the Vulcans. “If you would have told me when I met the team Aug. 19 that we were going to be 10-3-2 going into the last game. This was a total Cinderella story. We overachieved all year long.”
If it had to end, this was the way Lindsey Poulsen, one of five seniors, wanted it to go.
“It was fun to have Senior Day be intense,” she said.
Playing for a program that’s had three coaches in three seasons, Analysa Rodriguez, Emily Cadiz, Jenna Rubin and Cristina Juaregui also were playing for the final time at UHH.
“It was a wild ride,” Rodriguez said. “A tough game, but we played our hearts out. Had our chances, we just couldn’t finish.”
Yates’ header off a Tasha Campbell free kick was only the second score against goalkeeper Jenna Hufford in eight-plus matches. The freshman stopped three shots.
UHH directed 11 shots on goal, Kristine Pasek led the way with four, but McCain was true to the test to post her seventh shutout in a row.
“She had an amazing game,” Poulsen said.
McCain’s diving stop to deny Rodriguez on the short side minutes after the Seasiders took the lead could have qualified as her best of the match, if not for a sequence later in the second half. After Poulsen broke down the right side and put a shot on frame, Pasek was on the doorstep of the goal to grab the rebound, but McCain moved to her left to gobble it up.
Considering that the Vulcans had just finished the season 6-1-1 to double their win total from last season, no one was in the mood to dwell on how close they’d missed the postseason by. Instead, they focused on how far they’d come.
“It’s awesome to go out on such a high note,” Poulsen said. “Even though we lost, we finished with a winning record. And everyone can still smile that we proved everybody wrong. We had an amazing season.”
It was just the type of culture change that Thompson was brought in to engineer.
“I’m thinking that’s what this season brought for us,” he said. “I’m hopeful that this is the turning point.”
• BYU-Hawaii men 2, UHH 1: While the Lady Vulcans missed some chances against a hot goalkeeper, the men’s team MISSED its opportunities.
Philip Sakaba and Rhyen Eugenio each had great looks at a game-tying goal slip away, and with it the Vulcans lost their grip on a .500 season.
Thompson said the final seven minutes of the match summed up the season as a whole.
“We had some golden opportunities and we just couldn’t do it,” Thompson said. “I think some of those guys are going to think about those for the rest of their lives. Phil still doesn’t know how he didn’t score it.”
Sakaba had an open net but shot wide from about 12 yards away on the right side, and Eugenio’s header from point-black range went wide as the final seconds of the match ticked away.
Jonathan Larsen and David Urbina each found the back of the net off assists from Ariel Chavez for the Seasiders (9-3-4, 7-3-2), but Darwin Ortiz netted his second goal of the season in the 81st minute for the Vulcans (6-8-1, 4-7-1).
Seniors Sakaba, Ian Watanabe, goalkeeper Yonha Andrabi, John Lawrence and Ruben Romero were honored after the match.
Andrabi stopped two shots, while Watanabe registered an assist as the Waiakea graduate closed another chapter in his Hilo soccer career.
“I’ve been playing for my whole life. AYSO, all the way up to high school, all-stars,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to grasp that’s it coming to an end.”
UHH exceeded its win total from last season, and its six wins are its most since it also finished 6-8-1 in 2010.