Raiders lock up final state berth over Punahou

The Raiders celebrate after Sasha Asselbaye's header gave Iolani the lead in the 70th minute. Michael Lasquero | SL

Iolani isn't quite ready to give up its crown just yet.

Sophomore Sasha Asselbaye headed in the game-winning goal on a Taylor Arakaki throw-in in the 70th minute to lift the Raiders to a 1-0 win over visiting Punahou in an Interscholastic League of Honolulu Division I playoff at Eddie Hamada Field at Kozuki Stadium Wednesday afternoon.

The victory gave Iolani, the defending state champion, the final berth into the Queen's Medical Center D1 state tournament. The Raiders will host Moanalua in opening round action next Monday at 3:30 p.m.

It was Iolani's first win and first goal on its home field since a 6-0 win over PAC-5 on Jan. 16. The Raiders then lost to Kamehameha in penalty kicks in a playoff for the league's first round title on Jan. 19 before dropping a 2-0 contest to Punahou six days ago in the ILH D1 second round, which uses a single-elimination format.

"I feel like we just worked hard and we fought for this win," said Asselbaye. "Our past two losses kind of got us feeling down and we've been working really hard in practice to make up for it."

The two teams were at a scoreless stalemate at halftime Wednesday, but the Raiders were able to dominate possession after the break.

Midway through the second half is when Iolani really put the pressure on Punahou.

The Raiders kept the ball on the Buffanblu's side of the field for about 10 minutes, pestering Punahou's goal on multiple throw-in and corner kick opportunities.

Iolani finally broke through when Asselbaye rose above the scrum and headed in an Arakaki throw-in.

"It's one of our set plays," Asselbaye said of her goal. "We just work on it every time and then the first player who gets the ball is supposed to score. It was just that one lucky moment that I got there."

It also helped that Asselbaye is taller than most of the girls on the field. Iolani coach Kristin Masunaga said her sophomore forward is around 6 feet or 6-foot-1.

Asselbaye was a little more modest about her height estimations, but she knew winning high balls are her responsibility.

"I feel like being tall, people are going to mark me more, and like during those header balls, I got to get those. Those are my balls," she said.

The winner of the first round matchup between Iolani and Moanalua will face Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Hilo in a 3:00 p.m. contest next Thursday at Waipio Soccer Stadium.

Reach Michael Lasquero at [email protected]