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Game of the Week
Kalani Takase | ScoringLiveFebruary 17, 2018, 12:06am
Fri, Feb 16, 2018 @ Waipio
WAIPAHU — History will be made at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium Saturday night.
For the first time in the 44-year history of the boys soccer state tournament, a Division I champion will come from the neighbor islands.
Baldwin and Hawaii Prep, champions of the Maui Interscholastic League and Big Island Interscholastic Federation, respectively, will face off in the title game of The Queen's Medical Center/HHSAA Division I Boys Soccer State Championships at 7 p.m..
The Bears, ranked 10th in the ScoringLive/HawaiianElectric Power Rankings, punched their ticket to the final with a stunning 3-1 win over two-time defending champion and top-ranked Punahou in the late semifinal Friday night.
Daniel Souza scored one goal and assisted on two others to lead the Bears (10-1-1) past the Interscholastic League of Honolulu-champion Buffanblu (12-2).
It will be Baldwin's first appearance in the state finals since 1993 and marks just the third time an MIL school will play for a championship.
"We've been trying to do this every that we've been here — that I've been here, at least — and finally senior year we knew that our team could do it and we're just psyched that we made it," Bears senior Angelo Deloso Flocco said.
Baldwin reached the semifinals last year, but was narrowly defeated by Kaiser, 1-0.
"It feels great. I've just been waiting for this for four years, working hard and we made it to the semis last year and we came up short, and this year is just so much more sweeter since it's our senior year and our last and we got to the finals," said Hayden Hawes, part of the Bears back line that withstood a barrage of 14 shots on goal by the Buffanblu.
"Our defense did phenomenal; I'm so proud of them. Hayden kept us together in the back, kept us in the game the whole time and Elliott (Tom) kept us in it, too, making saves all night," Deloso Flocco said.
Tom, a junior goalkeeper, posted 13 saves for the Bears, including eight after halftime.
The lone miscue for Tom came just seconds before halftime, when he stepped outside of the 18-yard box just before punting away a ball. The result was a handball and Punahou was award an indirect free kick from that spot. After a touch from Dominic Gusman, Christopher Espinoza fired a low, lining shot that found the lower left corner of the goal.
That Buffanblu goal cut Baldwin's lead to 2-1 at the intermission.
"Mentally, we just knew that nothing was going to stop us, even the goal, and we just had to keep pushing on," Hawes said. "We knew that 2-0 was a dangerous lead for us and we knew that if they scored one, then they would have the momentum. Luckily we got to halftime and we could recuperate and they didn't come out with the momentum."
Punahou peppered Tom for much of the second half, but the Baldwin defense held firm.
Bears coach Kaniela Palazzotto said it took everything they had, and then some, to stave off the talent-rich Buffanblu and their seemingly never-ending wave of fresh legs.
"With the help of God, man," Palazzotto said. "The boys have been through a lot this year and they battle. They're battle-tested and that's the idea: they work really hard and they believe in each other. They work hard for each other and man, it's unbelievable."
Baldwin clutched firmly to its 2-1 lead until the 75th minute, when Souza put away an insurance goal off an assist from Deloso Flocco.
"My hat goes off to Baldwin, they played a tremendous game," Punahou coach David Trifonovitch said. "Their intensity was there and they took what we gave them, which was counter-attacks and the corner kick and stuff like that, and they capitalized on it. We were all over them, we threw everything but the kitchen sink at them and they withstood it. They made saves off the line, they did everything they could to prevent it, so you've just got to give credit to them. They did what they needed to do, it was a great game and tonight just wasn't our night."
Deloso Flocco said the team embraced the role of the underdog against the Buffanblu, who own a record 20 state championships.
"We knew they were the defending state champs, so we just knew that we had to come out hard and take it to them and get them out of their element — that's what we talked about — because we knew that this is their element They've been here before and this is our first time making it to the final, so we knew that we just had to do it," Deloso Flocco said.
The Bears took an early lead on Hawes' header in the ninth minute, off a corner kick by Souza.
"I just knew the ball was going to come into the six-(yard box) area, so I was just expecting it to get over everyone's head and hit my head and so I just flicked it to the back post and it went in," Hawes said.
Souza connected a through ball to Deloso Flocco in the 28th minute and the latter put it away to give his team a two-goal cushion.
"He slipped me through, the defender slid — I think he missed the ball — and I just got it, touched it and I drove it past the goalie and I then just passed it and finished it," said Deloso Flocco, a First Team All-Hawaii forward last season.
Saturday's championship match will mark the first all-neighbor island state final.
"That means we gotta get the job done. We can't beat this (Punahou) team and not finish the job," said Palazzotto, who has been with the program for 17 seasons, the last 15 as head coach.
"We're psyched," Deloso Flocco said. "Our coach has been wanting this for a long time and it will definitely be a big thing for an outer island team to finally take it."
The Buffanblu were seeking their seventh appearance in the state final in the last nine seasons. They will play No. 8 King Kekaulike for third place Saturday.
Kaiser ended Kahuku's nine-year reign to win its first OIA championship.
Trojans won their first girls title since 2008 while Rams won their 20th boys title.
Sabers down Mules for second consecutive OIA title and seeded state tournament berth.
A seven-run sixth inning helped the Bulldogs end their 10-year title drought.
Red Raiders and Kaiser will meet in a rematch for the OIA Championship.
Leilehua is seeking its first league crown, while Campbell is trying for its seventh.