By Larry Moko
Samantha DeStephanis has developed the knack of scoring big goals for the St. Thomas More Knights.
Last June, in the gold-medal game of the OFSAA girls’ AAA high school soccer tournament in London, her goal in overtime lifted More to a 1-0 victory over Ottawa’s St. Peter Knights.
That gave More its first-ever medal in the sport at the provincial level.
DeStephanis’ hot foot continued Tuesday. Playing on More’s field, she again fired what proved to be the winning goal as the Knights downed the Cathedral Gaels, 4-1, in a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league semifinal.
Up next is the championship game on Thursday between the first-place St. John Henry Newman Cardinals and the second-place Knights. Newman took its semifinal, 2-0, over the sixth-place St. Mary Crusaders.
“Sam scored our last two goals at OFSAA last year,” More coach Giovanni Carboni said. “She got the third goal of the semifinal (a 3-1 win over Mississauga’s St. Martin Mustangs) and the winning goal of the final.”
This season, through indoor, tournament and outdoor action, the Grade 11 student is the team’s leading scorer with 18 goals.
“She’s about a goal-a-game on average,” Carboni said. “Her forte is she understands where to go and when to go. And, although she’s not a striker, she can finish.”
More (6-1) opened the scoring against fourth-place Cathedral (3-3-1) when DeStephanis’ crossing pass set up teammate Maddy Rodrigues. The initial shot by Rodrigues – the team’s second-leading goal scorer with 12 – was blocked, but she found the mark after pouncing on the rebound.
DeStephanis made it 2-0 when her hard shot deflected off the hands of the Gaels goalkeeper and into the net.
Francesca Pugliese then gave More a three-goal cushion heading into the half.
Cathedral’s lone goal was scored from near the sideline by Keira Daly.
Pugliese’s sister, Ava, then answered back on a free kick from 30 yards to complete the scoring.
In recent quarter-final results, More blanked the Bishop Ryan Celtics, 4-0, Cathedral edged the Bishop Tonnos Titans, 2-1, the St. Mary Crusaders nipped the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves, 1-0, and Newman topped ACMT, 11-0.
“I didn’t expect to lose today,” Carboni said. “But you don’t know until you play the game. We’ll need to play better against Newman.”
Said DeStephanis: “I think we’ve grown a lot as a team. We worked really well together today. We’re ready to go into the championship game and play hard.”
DeStephanis scored six goals as a rookie in 2022 and says her increased production is due to “more playing time”.
As for her OFSAA winner, she says, “That was a very special moment.”
Both Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic finalists qualify for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AAA playoffs against Halton opponents later this month.
In the senior boys’ division of soccer, the defending champion Bishop Ryan Celtics will face the first-place Cardinals for the title on Thursday. Semifinals saw Newman defeat Brebeuf, 5-1, and Bishop Ryan get past More, 4-1.
Earlier quarter-final results: Newman 10 St. Mary 1; Brebeuf 3 Tonnos 2; Bishop Ryan 5 ACMT 0; More 4 Cathedral 1.