Wahine top Riverside 2-0 in crucial contest

Rainbow Wahine players formed a "happy birthday" ring around Raisa Strom-Okimoto after UH's 2-0 win over UC Riverside on her 21st birthday. / Photo by Brian McInnis

One more win and the Hawaii soccer team is in.

With UH and UC Riverside mired scoreless for most of the night, the Rainbow Wahine broke out late with goals by seniors Sarah Lau and Raisa Strom-Okimoto for a key 2-0 win on Thursday night at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

UH (9-6-1, 4-3 Big West) moved into fourth place in the conference standings with one game to play. It’s the most conference wins for Michele Nagamine’s team since it joined the BWC in 2012.

“Our ladies were ready to play today,” Nagamine said. “They were very pumped.”

If UH beats Cal State Fullerton (3-12-3, 0-5-2) at 2 p.m. Sunday, it is in the four-team conference tournament for the first time. Defense-minded Riverside (11-3-3, 2-3-2) was knocked out of tournament contention. Fullerton is also eliminated, but will look to play the role of spoiler against UH, against which it is 6-0 in Big West meetings.

“It’s like all the hard work just paid off,” Strom-Okimoto said after scoring her Big West-best 12th goal of the season on her 21st birthday. “Now we gotta refocus for Fullerton, another huge, huge game.”

Goalkeeper Lex Mata recorded her sixth shutout of the season.

UH got together at halftime and decided it needed to stop playing UCR’s game; UH had just two shots at the time.

“I thought my staff made some good points at halftime,” Nagamine said. “We were talking to the kids. Marc (Fournier) made the comment, ‘if you’re going to try to play their game, we could tie, but you’re probably going to lose. But if you play our game, you may tie, but you’re probably going to win.’ So I thought that was really good because it made the kids think about when we’re true to ourselves. That’s when Rachel (Doyle) jumped in and with, ‘when we do what we do best, that’s where we’re going to be OK.’ They really helped to settle the kids down.”

In the 73rd minute, defender Taylor Mason worked her way upfield after a throw-in and centered it nicely for Lau, who bodied the ball in from close range for her second goal of the season.

“Going into the second half, we knew ‘this is it right now,’ ” Mason said. “If we tie, it won’t matter. We’re out. A tie’s not going to get us anywhere. So we were playing like it was our last game, because it could have been.”

Midfielder Morgan Meza tapped it ahead nicely to Mason to help set up the cross for her first career assist. Lau was waiting for it on the far side.

“I saw the ball pass the last defender, and I saw me and the goalie (Annie Bailey) both meeting the ball at the same time,” Lau said. “And all that was going through my head was, ‘I need to run through this ball.’ Whether it is sore or whatever, I have to run through it.”

Riverside tried marking Strom-Okimoto with multiple players at all times, but a move to attacking midfielder from forward allowed her a few more yards of space for the game-clinching shot from 25 yards in the 78th minute.

She fired a quality ball to the top bin far post, where Bailey had no chance at it. Strom-Okimoto now has as many goals in a season as any Wahine player not named Natasha Kai — tied for fourth on the all-time list.

Riverside came into the game with only five goals allowed all year, best in the BWC.

“When we started to break their press in the midfield, and started to move off of each other in a little more dynamic fashion, that’s when it really started to open up for us,” Nagamine said. “I thought our defense — our defense has been solid all year long — and getting our midfield to find each other again and not be panicked (was important). We had so many turnovers in the first half, and that just killed us. We talked about that at halftime and I have to give the ladies credit, because they really took that halftime talk and just kind of flipped themselves around and turned the switch on. Then it was lights out.”

UC Davis, which has 11 points to UH’s 12, is the only team that can keep UH out of the tournament in Sunday scenarios. Davis and Riverside play at Davis at 11 a.m. (HST). If UH and UCD both lose or tie, UH is in. If UH loses or ties and UCD wins, Davis is in. If the teams finish with the same point total (via a UH loss and a Davis tie), UH wins via head-to-head tiebreaker; UH won that meeting 3-2.

Here’s the standings.

UC Riverside took the field in advance of a key Big West game at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium on Thursday. / Photo by Brian McInnis

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UPDATE #4: FINAL, Hawaii 2, UC Riverside 0. UH moves into fourth place in the conference standings with one game to play. It’s the first time UH (9-6-1, 4-3 Big West) has reached four wins in league play since joining the BWC in 2012. If UH beats Cal State Fullerton (3-12-3, 0-5-2) at 2 p.m. Sunday, they are in for the four-team conference tournament for the first time.

UPDATE #3: Raisa Strom-Okimoto finds herself in open space at last … and makes it count from 25 yards. She fires a quality shot to the top bin far post, where the keeper had no chance at it. RSO now has as many goals in a season (12) as any Wahine player not named Natasha Kai. That’s tied for fourth on the all-time list.

UPDATE #2: With 17 minutes and change to play in regulation, defender Taylor Mason works her way upfield after a throw-in and centers it nicely for Sarah Lau, who heads it in from close range. It’s 1-0 Rainbow Wahine on Lau’s second goal of the season.

UPDATE: Hawaii and UC Riverside are scoreless at halftime. Highlanders with a 3-2 shots advantage. Not a whole lot of offense either way, but the visitors doing a better job of keeping the ball in the attacking third so far. They’ve contained Raisa Strom-Okimoto, holding her to one shot so far.

Since joining the Big West in 2012, the Hawaii soccer team has never had a better opportunity than this.

UH (8-6-1) can move a huge step closer to Big West tournament qualification tonight if it can get past a quality side in UC Riverside (11-2-3, 2-2-2). The game is being televised on Spectrum Sports. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

As a primer, you can read today’s print edition story on Raisa Strom-Okimoto putting UH in position to do something special.

UC Davis’ 3-3 draw vs. Long Beach State today opens up a clearer path for UH to get into the tourney. If UH wins tonight and follows up by beating last-place Cal State Fullerton on senior day Sunday, the Wahine are in for the first time.

While a draw tonight still keeps them in contention, things get quite a bit murkier.

Riverside has the most overall wins in the conference, thanks to its pretty spotless 10-0-1 record in nonconference play. However, the Highlanders’ schedule was not as demanding as some others around the Big West. But UCR is coming off a very quality 1-0 win over Long Beach State in its last game.

I’ll check back at the top of this post periodically with scoring updates.

COMMENTS

  1. islandman October 26, 2018 11:16 am

    Thanks for the info above like about Mason, Lau and moving Raisa to midfield.
    Unsung hero is Mason who played “only” 30 minutes.


  2. Aiea 7 October 26, 2018 2:38 pm

    wonder why mason is not starting this year as last year she was a starter. despite being short, she knows how play against taller players and is very effective. she should be given more playing time, she is a winner. risa will be missed next year. don’t see anyone can replace her play on this year’s roster, need to get someone, otherwise the progress made this year will be for naught.


  3. Duster October 26, 2018 5:25 pm

    The first goal was willed by Lau and Strom-Okimoto’s shot was real sweet – says Captain Obvious. Too bad they’re seniors.

    Was Strom-Okimoto named after former Soviet Union first lady Raisa Gorbachev – wife of Mikhail Gorbachev of perestroika and glasnost fame?


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