KAHALA — Refocused and recharged, the Kaiser boys soccer team rebounded with a pivotal win Tuesday afternoon.
Three days after the lone blemish on its record — a 3-3 tie against Roosevelt — Kaiser got goals from three different players en route to a 3-1 win over host, and Oahu Interscholastic Association Eastern Division rival, Kalani, in front of a crowd of about 200 fans on a balmy day in East Honolulu.
The win propelled the Cougars to 8-0-1 and assured them of the East's top seed and a first-round bye in the upcoming 12-team league tournament.
"It was very gratifying. Everything that the boys do is awesome," Kaiser first-year coach Layne Abalos said.
The Cougars have held firm stop the East standings all season. They have outscored their opponents 43 to 7 on the year. However, after winning their first seven games, the Cougars stumbled against Roosevelt Saturday in a 3-3 tie.
"That last game was a wake-up call," Abalos said. "I think the boys were looking ahead to this (Kaiser) game versus playing game to game and I think we learned a valuable lesson, but the boys did well today. They deserve all the credit."
Kaiser didn't waste time finding the back of the net Tuesday.
Noah Mokulehua opened the scoring three minutes into the match on a well-timed counterattack down the left flank.
"The ball was kind of bouncing around on their side of the field, we got a breakaway, he beat the defender up the field and they didn't mark him and he was one-on-one with the goalie," Abalos said. "It was a beautiful run."
It was Mokulehua's ninth goal of the season.
However, Brison Kim scored the equalizer just four minutes later on a header off a set piece for Kalani.
"We've been working on that — marking on corner kicks and free kicks — and unfortunately one got away," Abalos said of Kim's team-leading sixth goal of the year.
Kaiser reclaimed the lead in the 30th minute on a Kalani own goal. Motoki Sato booted a corner kick into the goalie box and it was deflected off a Kalani player and into the goal.
"I've got to give credit to Motoki," Abalos said. "He places the ball in perfect positions."
Sato also set up the final score of the game in the 53rd minute. His corner kick found teammate Yuki Enomoto, who headed it just inside of the left post and into the net.
"It was just like we practiced: one person goes to the goalie and one comes across to the front post and then I was the back-post runner and I made my run and they played the ball," Enomoto said, whose younger brother Kane plays for the Falcons.
Kaiser held a 2-1 lead at halftime. Just seconds before the intermission, it lost forward Makana Srivongsana to his second yellow card of the match, which resulted in a red card and subsequent ejection.
"We used that negativity and turned it into energy and we used it to work even harder than we were in the first half," Enomoto said.
The Cougars were forced to play a man down for the final 40 minutes. Also, Srivongsana, who leads the OIA with 17 goals scored this season, will not be eligible for the Cougars' regular-season finale against Kalaheo Saturday.
"Losing Makana was tough, a lot of the calls weren't going our way, a lot of things weren't going our way, but you know what, the boys stuck together and the boys did it. They worked hard and they earned it," Abalos said.
The Falcons saw their three-game win streak snapped and fell to 6-1-2.
"Congrats to Kaiser; they're very good and I think that they deserve it," said Kalani coach Michael Ching, whose team allowed a goal for the first time since Dec. 20. "I mean, they're better than us at this point. That doesn't mean that we can't compete with them. At this time we're very young, so we haven't seen the speed throughout this season, so the takeaway was that hopefully if we see them again we can clean some things up because we'll have some film on it and we'll have to clean do some things, but they are very, very good."
Kalani can clinch the East's second seed with a win over Kaimuki Saturday and a Kahuku tie or loss in either of its final two games against Moanalua and Kailua.
Both teams will play at Mililani on Tuesday night.
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