By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hilo stuck to its game plan and played attacking possession soccer, while Waiakea’s attempts at the same strategy were often gone with wind and turned unproductive against a tenacious defense.
Casey Nakatsu played a part in two goals and Kalei Perry had a late insurance score as the Vikings defeated the Warriors 3-1 in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation Division I semifinals Wednesday at Hilo Bayfront field.
The No. 2 Vikings (10-3-1) earn a berth to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division I state tournament. In the other semifinal, No. 1 seed Kealakehe (13-0-1) beat No. 4 Konawaena (7-4-2) 1-0. The Vikings and Waveriders play at 7 p.m. Saturday in the BIIF final at Kamehameha.
The season is over for the No. 3 Warriors (8-5-1), who had a howling wind in their face in the first half and trailed 2-0 at halftime.
“We played well as a team and played some of our best soccer,” Nakatsu said. “I liked that we communicated and possessed. We kept the ball and didn’t give Waiakea any good scoring opportunities.
“We stretched the field and made Waiakea chase after us. That’s what we want to do — make them run and tire them out. The wind definitely played a factor. The ball stayed in the air longer when Waiakea kicked into the wind. But we won everything in the air. That was a key to winning as well.”
For a full 80 minutes, Hilo looked to cover every inch in Waiakea’s territory, running at a fast tempo, switching fields to disarrange the defense, and sending crosses to provide as much scoring opportunities as possible.
“Basically, we wanted to control the game from the beginning, the pace, intensity, sense of urgency, every aspect,” Hilo coach Cameron Castillo said. “In the past, Hilo used to rely on its speed and size, but the players have the technical skills.
“George Ichimaru, my assistant, and I like to play possession soccer. We want to move the ball, side to side, make the other team run and we want to have a high-pressure defense, don’t allow any of the Waiakea players to turn and shoot.”
About 10 minutes in, the Vikings worked a ball in, and a Warrior defender was called for a handball. Nakatsu took the penalty kick, and drilled a left-footed bullet inside the right post for a 1-0 lead.
Then five minutes later, Nakatsu displayed his dribbling and passing skills, charging past his defender down the left sideline and delivering a ball right to Nick Carter, who firmly finished for a 2-0 advantage.
“Casey’s our only captain and he’s earned that armband,” Castillo said. “We’re lucky to have a player like Casey in our possession game to attack and attack. We ask a lot out of him and rely on him. He’s solid for us on and off the field.”
For most of the first half, Hilo dominated ball possession, and took more quality shots, 9-4, and made good use of the wind. When freshman goalie Lander Mizuba gobbled a ball and punted, an immediate scoring opportunity landed near the mouth of Waiakea’s goal.
But that’s a 50-50 ball for the defense to win and start a counter-attack. However, the Warriors couldn’t string together enough precision passes to take a close-range shot. Far too often, the Vikings challenged ball-handlers and won the ball back, or returned on defense to close passing lanes and shut down a scoring threat.
“We didn’t stick to our game plan, ball to feet,” Waiakea coach Dave Urakami said. “We didn’t want to play boom ball or rely on breakaways all day. But I think our emotions got a hold of us and we were too pumped up, more than we needed to be.”
Then the second half arrived and Waiakea had the benefit of the wind. Junior defender Miles Marshall was deadly on free kicks, even near midfield, putting an accurate touch on his deep balls.
About seven minutes in, one of his long passes was a well-placed airball. One shot was rejected, then a Viking headed the rebound, but couldn’t clear the ball far enough.
Hajime Hayano was there to clean up and knocked it in. Waiakea trailed 2-1 and a lot of time was still on the clock in a physical game that saw two Warriors draw yellow cards in the first half.
“They have skilled players, too,” Castillo said. “Hajime is dangerous. If he has space and time, he’ll punish you, and that’s how he got his one goal.”
Kaulu Ontai replaced the shorter Mizuba in goal. Hilo’s defense became a brick wall and Waiakea couldn’t penetrate or manage another high-percentage shot again, and it didn’t help that the wind suddenly became temperamental.
Sometimes it took a coffee break and died down. Wind or no wind, that didn’t matter much to the Vikings, who still manufactured scoring chances and took just as many shots in the second half as the Warriors, 8-8.
With about five minutes left, Perry, one of five Hilo freshmen starters, made a swift run on a ball that the defense didn’t clear and rammed in a left-footed score that really knocked the wind out of Waiakea’s sails and finally gave the Vikings a good deal of breathing room.
“We’ve got a very young team and they’re all solid,” Castillo said. “When we got beat before, it was on balls over the top. But we adjusted, read the play and didn’t give up any balls over the top.
“Some days we’ll have our good days and some days are bad days. We’re lucky we had a good day. But more and more, we’re playing better.”