By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
HONOKAA — Tied 0-0 with 30 minutes left and a man down after a red card, Honokaa turned that disadvantage on its nose and assembled all its loose parts into a viable working unit Tuesday against Konawaena.
The Dragons scored goals in a span of two minutes to blank the Wildcats 2-0 in a Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys soccer game of well-played ball-control between a pair of unbeatens.
Seanry Agbayani scored at the second half’s mid-point from 7 yards out, and Travis Cotton quickly added a 35-yard insurance goal for the Division II Dragons (4-0), who capitalized on two crucial Kona mistakes.
After a corner kick, the ball rolled around the front of goal, but a Wildcat tried to back-heel to clear the ball. He swung and missed. Agbayani one-timed the gift assist, slotting it past goalie Michael Gusman to the left corner.
Before Kona had a chance to catch its breath, the Dragons moved the ball into enemy territory after the restart, and Cotton hit a routine rainbow. But Gusman got caught on his heels, couldn’t time his jump, stumbled and saw another giveaway goal sneak in.
What hurt for the Division I Wildcats (2-1-1), besides falling from the driver’s seat for the BIIF regular-season title, was senior John Replogle injuring his right ankle 20 minutes into the game. The BIIF regular-season champ earns the first of the league’s two berths to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament.
The league is slated to have three berths to the Division II state tournament. But Honokaa coach Maurice Miranda remembers well that the road to states requires strong play down the stretch.
“That’s how we lost last year to go to states in the third-place game,” he said. “We beat Christian Liberty the week before, but lost to them in the game that counted. We’ve got a lot of seniors back with that bad taste in their mouths.
“I felt like we had a lot of loose pieces and we’re trying to figure out who could do what. We’re finally getting them all working. Whoever got that first goal would be a big one, especially with us down to 10 guys. It helped us and hurt them. In a game like this one mistake can cost you. The first guy who blinks loses.”
If the Dragons were to award defensive players a star, they would need two and salute senior goalie Elzer Maltezo, who made a half-dozen impressive saves, and senior fullback Chance Salva, whose physical play shut down Kona’s left flank.
In fact, Replogle got hurt when he charged in for a hard tackle against Salva, who made like a tree and remained sturdy, healthy and productive. Replogle, the reigning BIIF Division II player of the year (Kona jumped to Division I this season), walked off with a limp.
Salva had several five-star defensive stops. Early on, Replogle had a clear dribbling lane down the left sideline. But Salva ran him down, and knocked the ball away. Salva also deflected a ball off a corner kick, and used his physicality to overwhelm the smaller Wildcats he covered.
His instincts showed with his sideline defense against Replogle, who had a good head-start. Salva ran side-by-side and didn’t let Replogle dribble at an angle to open up passing lanes, basically, relying on the sideline as a second defender — the best one-on-one way to stop wing attacks.
“Chance is a second-year player, but he’s such a good athlete the game is coming fast to him,” Miranda said. “He came with that long throw-in. It’s only his second year of playing soccer. He’s a volleyball player and wants to get a college scholarship in that sport. He’s big, physical and tough.
“Elzer did well back there. He had great saves at the end when Kona was pressing hard on us. Jevin Dement is a first-year senior starter and workhorse in the middle for us. Aukanai Kapu played tough in the back. The seniors played like seniors today.”
Before he got hurt, Replogle showed his offensive skill-set to create scoring opportunities and set up others. About 10 minutes in, the senior striker headed a ball to a teammate, who couldn’t finish. Three minutes later, he sent a laser over the crossbar off a corner kick rebound. He later shook free, found space with nice pace on the ball and fired another deadly shot that went wide left.
Meanwhile, Agbayani is making the most of his senior season. He’s a four-year player, but only started as a junior. Now, he’s one of the veterans on a squad with 11 seniors.
“The ball was juggling around and I put it away. It ended up right at my foot,” he said. “We emphasize that kind of thing. When you’re two feet from the goal, you’ve got to finish.”
He was actually about 7 yards away. But who’s counting? His memory is much better than his measuring ability.
“At half, coach got on us who wanted this game the most,” he recalled. “You can play defense all you want, but you’ve got to put balls away to win games.
“Last year, we had a good team, but I feel this team is more focused. After we didn’t make states, it was a wakeup call. This team is like a family. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve played together. We’ve got a lot of seniors and freshmen. We need to keep them on our level of play. Coach wants leadership out of me. I’m one of the guys on the team the longest.”
Even without Replogle, the Wildcats still gave themselves scoring chances because of the sharp ball-control from midfielder Coran Yamamoto, who, for the most part, passed to open teammates either forward or backward to move momentum.
“He’s a load. He’s hard to knock off the ball,” said Miranda of Kona’s wide-bodied Wildcat.
Despite the man-up advantage for 30 minutes, Kona had a small batch of good second-half shots (4 to Honokaa’s 8), but couldn’t finish, lacking aim or watching Maltezo make another solid save.
“Nobody was in sync,” Kona coach Keahi Fleming said. “I thought with a man up, we’d push more, but apparently we didn’t.
“Honokaa deserved to win. They played harder. But it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish the season.”
Christian Liberty at HAAS: The score was not available at press time.
Konawaena 7, Honokaa 0: Ana Tuppein and Chloe Delaney scored two goals each for the Division I Wildcats (2-0-2), and Nikki Kunitomo, Kawehi Kahele and Kaulana Ruedy scored one each.
Goalie Taiana Tolleson recorded the shutout against the Division II Dragons (3-1).
“We worked the ball around well, and the young players got a good amount of playing time,” Kona coach Guy Miranda said. “We came out healthy. We had some injuries and the players that filled in stuck with the program, and they gave their all the whole game. That always makes me happy.
“We try to keep the ball on the ground, work on our one- and two-touch passes and wear down the other team, have them chase the ball instead of us running around so much. We need to work on finding the final third at midfield, connecting the gaps and seeing the runs. It’s still early. We’ve got a lot of time to work on our game.”
But in three days, the Wildcats welcome Hilo (2-1), which rejuvenated itself with a four-goal victory over Kealakehe last Saturday.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” Miranda said. “We’ve got to get ready for Hilo on Saturday.”