WAIMEA — Toby Balaam has made his patented run down the sideline hundreds of times, with it more often than not resulting in a goal, or at least a pretty cross into the box that one of his teammates finish off.
But it never resulted in something as golden as it did Saturday afternoon in the BIIF Division I championship for the Hawaii Preparatory Academy junior.
A little less than three minutes into the first 10-minute sudden death overtime period, Balaam outran a pair of Waiakea defenders and tucked a goal just inside the post, inciting mass celebration on the field as Ka Makani captured a 3-2 victory and its first D-I league title.
“I’m speechless,” Balaam said shortly after netting the game-winner. “It felt like a risky thing to try in a big game, but it paid off.”
“He just did what he does best,” senior Ilan Naibryf interjected for the modest Balaam. “That’s routine for him.”
In their inaugural year in Division I, Ka Makani were perfect, rolling through the season with a 12-0 record on the way to a third consecutive BIIF title — the previous two coming in Division II. Hawaii Prep was also the two-time reigning D-II state champs, which helped fuel the move to D-I.
“Coach told us at the beginning of the year we had done nothing. We were starting fresh,” Naibryf said. “This game was our first step of the journey in D-I. We were able to leave our footprint.”
Hawaii Prep will have a seeded berth in the state tournament, which begins Feb. 12 with the first round and continues from the Feb. 14-16 on Oahu. Ka Makani are expected to receive a bye to the quarterfinals.
“Our goal all season was to take it one step at a time — one game at a time, one practice at a time, one drill at a time,” Hawaii Prep head coach Rich Braithwaite said. “Now taking care of business means finding a way to hang with the big schools on Oahu.”
Hawaii Prep were so good this season, that playing from behind was never something the team had to experience. But against Waiakea, Ka Makani had to do it twice, falling behind 1-0 in the first half, and then 2-1 midway through the second.
Jake Schneider netted both tying goals for Hawaii Prep, scoring on a blast from inside the box for his first, and converting a penalty kick for his second.
“I’m so proud of these boys. They kept battling back after falling behind. What a tremendous way to finish,” Braithwaite said. “We haven’t been down all year and hadn’t really played a meaningful final 10 minutes this season. But it’s great that it happened now and we can build on the experience.”
While Waiakea ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard and was denied its first BIIF title since 2006, it would be hard to qualify the game as a complete loss. Hawaii Prep had handled the Warriors by a combined score of 10-3 in two regular season games, so forcing overtime against the powerhouse Ka Makani was a victory in itself that will have benefits moving forward.
The Warriors have their own berth in the state tournament awaiting, hosting a first round game against a to be decided opponent on Feb. 12.
“I’m totally proud of the boys,” Waiakea head coach David Urakami said. “They stepped it up a lot and showed a ton of effort.”
Gabriel Frazier-Jenkins scored the opening goal of the game, while Riley Tamanaha put away a second half strike for the Warriors on an assist from John Grover. But what stood out most to Urakami was the effort of his keeper Isaac “Ikey” Sumera.
“He kept us in it,” Urakami said.
Sumera made it a frustrating afternoon for the usually goal-happy Ka Makani, especially Schneider — the leading scorer in D-I — who saw many of his chances get gobbled up by Waiakea’s sophomore backstop. He just seemed to be in the right place at the right time, even on those usually sneaky crosses from Balaam.
“Toby probably had five or six of those looks early that he was crossing, but the keeper was doing a great job at coming out and eating up that near post,” Braithwaite said. “On the game-winner, I guess he said heck with the cross. I’m just going to bury it.”
That Balaam did, leading to a dog-pile in the corner of the field and a nice Gatorade bath for Braithwaite in some chilly Waimea weather. There was no complaining from the Ka Makani skipper.
“It feels great,” Braithwaite said with a smile. “I’m amped.”