It was hard to tell Thursday night which boys soccer state tournament victory was more impressive — Baldwin’s 1-0 win on penalty kicks over Mililani or Kaiser’s 2-1 upset of Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion and second-seeded ‘Iolani.
So, probably, equally impressive.
Both are relative underdogs to win a state title, but Baldwin is carrying the flag for an entire island — and actually all of the Neighbor Islands. No outer-island team has won a boys soccer state crown in Division I.
And that is what is driving Bears head coach Kane Palazzotto and his squad.
“There hasn’t been an outer-island state champ. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re here for,” he said after Thursday’s win.
The third-seeded Bears (10-0-3) are a highly skilled, ball-control oriented team. They struggled in the first half against Mililani before settling into their quarterfinal game that ended 0-0 in regulation and two 10-minute overtimes.
Palazzotto said that even though Baldwin played better after halftime, his boys still didn’t play their game as much as they could have.
“Mililani likes to play really direct and I think we dealt with it really well,” he said. “They didn’t get a real quality opportunity. We were there to clean it up every time. We lost possession too easily in the first half and were playing too direct and not side to side. Losing ball possession is what we were worried about and it was killing us, so we tried to make adjustments in the second half, opening up the game a little bit wider. We still didn’t do it good, but started creating opportunities when we did do it.
“The boys have been resilient all year, only two goals against us all year.”
Tonight, the Bears take on Kaiser (13-1-1), which showed strength in every facet of the game in the upset of the Raiders.
Unseeded Punahou plays top-seeded Kapolei in tonight’s other semifinal, which is a rematch of last year’s title game won by the Buffanblu.
For Baldwin, Palazzotto knows the rest of the way will not be easy.
“We’re in the group of four,” he said. “When we came up for the preseason, everybody was talking about Kaiser. And there’s a team (Punahou) that has won (19) state championships on the other side of the bracket.”