They played their hearts out to win the biggest game of the season, and then there wasn’t much left when they were asked to play one more.
That was the end of a stellar season for the St. Thomas Aquinas senior boys, who battled all the way to the provincial AA soccer championship game Wednesday in Burnaby where they ultimately fell 2-0 against the Notre Dame Jugglers.
“Our expectation of this team was to be at provincials and to show well, and we did,” said Loui Salituro, STA co-head coach alongside Fernando Grossling. “It’s definitely disappointing coming up just one game short, but when you look at it big picture, we’re definitely pleased with the run that we had. Great ride, great group of boys.”
Looking back at the tournament as a whole, Salituro pinpointed STA’s 1-0 semifinal win over Langley Fundamental Secondary, the defending provincial champs, as the high point of the season for the Fighting Saints.
“We knew they were the defending champions,” he said. “We were looking at the names and noticed a lot of familiar names that were on last year’s team. The MVP of the tournament, the Golden Boot winner – they were all back from last year. It looked like the same team that won it last year, except this year they were in Grade 12. … That was the game that we got up for the most.”
And it ended up as a signature win for STA. Grade 11 striker Henry Cromack scored a header off a set piece in the first half and fought the rest of the way to keep a clean sheet for Grade 12 goalkeeper Michael O’Flynn.
“We played that semifinal game like it was our last game,” said Salituro. “It was the most complete game we played all season, it was the most intense game we played all season. They were exactly what we expected – a very talented team that took away a lot of our time and space and really pressured us.”
The win put STA in the final but there wasn’t a lot left in the tank after such an intense battle, said Salituro.
“I think coming off of that high, it was really tough to duplicate that performance, that effort, less than 24 hours later,” he said. “And credit to Notre Dame. They played us very well, they played defensively sound, they shut down a lot of offensive opportunities that we tried to create and we just didn’t seem to have our legs like we [against Langley].”
Luca Martinelli put Notre Dame up 1-0 early in the first half and Adamo Scaccia added an insurance marker late in the second as STA pushed for an equalizer. Tournament MVP honours went to Notre Dame’s Brandon Torresan.
The score could have been more lopsided if not for some incredible saves from O’Flynn, who was given the tournament’s Top Goalkeeper award despite playing with an injured ankle that prevented him from taking any drop kicks or goal kicks.
“He was spectacular,” said Salituro of O’Flynn, who missed five weeks before provincials with his ankle injury but served as the team’s captain when he was on the field. “The presence that he has back there I think puts everyone else on the team in front of him at ease.”
Salituro also credited Grade 12 Matthew Hogan for filling in at goalkeeper while O’Flynn was injured, helping the Fighting Saints finish first in the North Shore league and earn a trip to provincials.
Grade 12 striker Lucas Borejszo was picked as STA’s representative on the Commissioner’s 11 all-star team at provincials.
“He had a great tournament and he’s had a fantastic season. He’s a tough guy to mark, and if you make a mistake, he’ll make you pay,” said Salituro, adding that the team’s attack we driven by the combination of strikers Borejszo and Cromack. “Between Henry and Lucas, the way they play off of each other, it can be a deadly combination. They sort of feed off of each other. When one gets the attention of the defence, the other one finds a hole. … They are fierce competitors. They were both pretty devastated today after the loss because it was such a good run.”
Windsor Secondary also showed well at provincials, finishing fifth. The Dukes lost their opening match against Langley Fundamental but won their next four in a row, including a 4-1 victory over South Kamloops in the fifth-place game. Windsor’s Sergio Moreno was named to the Commissioner’s 11 all-star team.