By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo’s match last month against Hawaii Pacific went as expected. It was just another lopsided loss for a men’s program all too used to struggling.
That was then. This is now — the team that couldn’t buy a win just a few short weeks ago suddenly can’t lose.
The transformation’s been so striking that junior Rayden Bala at first struggled to put it into context.
“I don’t even know how to describe it. … magical,” he said.
The Ziggy Korytoski era has officially turned fun for UHH men’s soccer, and Monday was the coming out party.
Aaron Sanchez scored twice, goalkeeper Yonha Adrabi stopped a penalty kick and was stellar again in goal and the Vulcans jumped all over the Sea Warriors for an emphatic 4-1 victory at the UHH baseball field.
“We just seem to be clicking,” said Sanchez, who also had an assist. “Everybody’s on the same page and we’re just focused on not losing anymore.
We’re just executing what coach Ziggy tells us to do. It’s a collaborative effort.”
Ikaika Fuerte tallied a goal and assist and Bala broke a scoring drought as UHH (3-7-2 overall, 3-6-2 Pacific West Conference) improved to 3-0-1 in its past four matches to exceed its win total from last year.
The four-game run may seem modest, but it’s a far cry from the 20-match winless streak the team finally put to an end two weeks ago. Included in that slump was a 5-1 loss to Hawaii Pacific (6-6-2, 6-3-2) on Sept. 15.
“Our team is just coming together perfectly,” Bala said.
UHH dominated this time around, jumping out to a 4-0 lead, and it substituted liberally with 18 minutes left in the match.
“I think they’ve been building on what Ziggy’s been doing,” HPU coach Chris Perez said. “They’re more organized. They’re finding each other well. They make passes better.”
The only possible damper of the afternoon was that Sanchez, a junior who moved up to center midfield for the match and hadn’t scored a goal coming in, narrowly missed netting the program’s first hat trick.
He put a free kick into the net in the 69th minute to give UHH a 3-0 lead, but Fuerte got a touch on the ball and was awarded the goal, the sophomore midfielder’s third of the season.
Just two minutes later after an HPU defender put a hand on the ball in the box, Sanchez converted a penalty kick, touching off something that’s not been seen in these parts in a long time — a celebration
“Just one of those spur-of-the moment things,” Sanchez said. “We’re all grateful for the victory and super happy.”
The way Adrabi’s been playing in net, UHH probably felt confident with a two-goal lead at the break.
The junior was named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Week on Monday, and Adrabi got off to a great start at earning another such honor, stopping a penalty kick and a breakaway.
After a handball gave HPU a PK in the second half, everyone on the pitch heard Korytoski yell to get Adrabi’s attention. Not all of the players, however, saw Korytoski signal for his goalie to go to his right against Hawaii Pacific’s leading scorer, Alejandro Porras.
Adrabi was in easy position to gobble up Porras’ shot and the ensuing rebound.
“We saw him take a PK earlier in year and he went to his right,” Korytoski said. “Just trying to give ourselves the best chance to make a play, and we did.”
Korytoski came to UHH to instill a culture change, and 12 matches in he finally has a hallmark victory.
“We were fantastic from top to bottom,” he said. “Guys stepped into their roles, movement was good. Guys were slashing. We were the better team today.”
Sophomore Lane Lorenzo came off the bench and had an assist, sophomore Rhyen Eugenio helped solidify the backline and senior Gerald Walsh gave up his body in the second half by diving to thwart an HPA attack.
Sanchez opened the scoring in the sixth minute, taking a drop pass from Fuerte and connecting on a one-timer.
UHH’s Kealakehe connection clicked in the 35th minute to up the lead to 2-0.
Lorenzo raced down the right flank and Bala put home his cross in the box for his second goal of the season and first in nine matches.
“It was a high school thing,” the junior forward said. “Me and Lane go way back. It’s nice to see the magic come together.
“I haven’t been scoring a lot lately, but I feel like I can score a lot more now.”
After Adrabi left the match, HPU’s Guillem Vinas Marin scored with a laser to beat Luis Romero in the 74th minute.
HPU outshot UHH 12-10.
Perez said his team looked like one that had to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on Oahu to make the 12:30 p.m. start.
“We came out flat and we paid the price,” he said before stating the obvious. “UHH is much improved.”
HPU 0 1 — 1
UHH 2 2 — 4
• Hawaii Pacific women 3, UHH 1: Trailing 2-1, the Lady Vulcans tilted the field during the first 25 minutes of the second half and had plenty of chances to tie the match.
— Sophomore Kristine Pasek and freshman Teisha Nacis both sent headers in the box over the net.
— Junior Analysa Rodriguez took a nice run down the right flank, but she couldn’t get a shot off until she was at a bad angle.
— Sophomore Danalynne Llacuna blasted a drop shot from beyond the box, but it sailed high.
— After gathering Lindsey Walter’s free kick, Pasek was stopped point blank by goalkeeper Kelby Boswell.
— An attempt by sophomore Teal Basquez sailed high.
“They came out with a lot of energy and they came out hungry,” UHH coach Unity Beddingfield said. “We weren’t getting the first and second balls in the first half, so we stressed that to them and we started winning everything.
“We had a lot of good looks, just a lot of unhappy breaks.”
Sophomore Gina Tumasone attacked the right flank for third goal of the season to tie the match in the 27th minute, but UHH (4-10, 2-9) lost for the eighth time in nine matches.
Ashlyn Ubongen and Erika Ellis scored for Hawaii Pacific (6-7-2, 5-4-2) in the first half.
“Everyone started off flat,” Beddingfield said. “We were getting beat to every ball.”
Andrea Aguirre added a backbreaker in the 77th minute.
Rodriguez rattled the cross bar with a rocket in the first half for the Vuls, who held a 14-10 advantage in shots, including 9-3 in the second half.
HPU 2 1 — 3
UHH 1 0 — 1