By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sport swriter
Pacific came to Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium intent of imposing its will on the University of Hawaii.
That just made Senior Night all the sweeter.
The Rainbow Wahine pushed back.
Tiana Fujimoto scored a goal Sunday night and Chelsea Miyake converted another penalty kick for the game-winner as Hawaii won a physical home finale 2-1 on Oahu.
UH (8-8-2, 3-4 Big West) was eliminated from postseason contention earlier in the day, but that did little to dampen the postgame festivities as the team and 1,371 fans honored five seniors: Amber Fuller, Michelle Nakasone, Kanani Taaca, Christy Watanabe and Rachel Domingo.
“We were all telling each other (pregame), ‘Don’t cry, don’t cry. Enjoy the moment,”’ said Watanabe, of Honolulu. “Business first, then celebration.”
She had a hand in both, assisting on Fujimoto’s opening goal as the 'Bows conducted all of their business in the second half to match their highest win total since 2009.
The seniors, who helped the program endure changes in coaches and conferences, had so many lei piled around their neck during the celebration it was hard to see their eyes.
“A one-of-a-kind experience,” said Nakasone, of Wahiawa, Oahu. “It feels great — especially since it was such a physical match.”
The Tigers (3-12-1, 0-6-1) lived up to their reputation. Easily the league leaders in fouls and yellow cards, Pacific was whistled for 23 fouls — 12 more than UH — and received the three yellow cards of the match. The 34 fouls called dwarfed the number of shots (19.)
“It was a physical game, but it was fun to end with intensity,” said Fuller, a transfer from Hawaii Pacific. “It was hard to keep a cool head.”
Hawaii once again performed well playing in front of the biggest draw in the league. Undefeated in 14 of its past 15 home matches, UH finished 7-1-2 at home during its first season in the Big West. With two road matches left, it also improved its chances of at least a .500 finish under second-year head coach Michelle Nagamine. The Rainbow Wahine, who went 5-12-1 during Nagamine’s first season, haven’t posted a winning season since 2008.
“This is huge for us,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time we beat Pacific.”
In fact, the 'Bows were winless in their past seven against the Tigers dating back to 1997.
“Wow. Much longer than I thought,” Nagamine said.
With the score tied 1-1, McKenzie McGoldrick’s header hit the post in the 70th minute, but that only temporarily delayed Hawaii from taking the lead.
Just seconds later, Ashley Haruki drew a foul in the box and Miyake easily put home her third penalty kick of the season. The junior fullback has four goals overall.
Neither team put a shot on frame in the first half. Hawaii was outplayed and outshot 9-2, but it had a prime scoring opportunity just before the break when Krystal Pascua’s free kick from just beyond the 18-yard box hit the right post with two seconds left.
The sophomore midfielder had a little better luck in the 55th minute.
Pascua stood up a defender near the left corner and sent a cross that Watanabe headed near the goal mouth to set up Fujimoto for a point-blank touch. It was the sophomore forward’s team-high eighth goal of the season.
Pacific tied the match seven minutes later with the help of a perfect cross by Laura Hernandez on a set piece. Standing near the right corner, Hernandez sent the ball through the penalty box and Brittni Beeman one-timed it from the left post past a diving Taaca.
The Hawaii goalkeeper has had a busy career with 67 career starts and over 3,300 minutes played, but her night was fairly uneventful. Neither team took a shot after Hawaii retook the lead.
“Trying to leave with a bang,” said Taaca, of Waianae, Oahu. “I feel blessed and happy to contribute.”
UH ends its season in California with matches Friday in Long Beach and Sunday in Irvine.