Canisius’ Kevin Armstrong and the rest of his team are already calling his golden goal over St. Francis the “fro goal.”
For St. Francis it was much more heartbreaking.
With 5:24 remaining in the first overtime, Canisius’ Jake Montante lofted a free kick from midfield into the St. Francis box, where the ball grazed Armstrong’s dark, curly hair before deflecting off a Red Raiders defender and past a diving Matthew Gabalski.
It gave Canisius its second Monsignor Martin Association title in three years at the Robert T. Scott Athletic Complex at St. Joe’s.
“It skimmed my afro,” said Armstrong, a junior. “I kind of got lucky, but a goal is a goal.”
The fluky goal capped off a cold, yet entertaining, tripleheader of Monsignor Martin championship soccer. Sacred Heart’s defense stifled a potent Nardin attack to win the girls North Division title, 1-0, advancing the Sharks to the state Catholic high school playoffs. Christian Central Academy won its first-ever girls South Division title with a 3-0 win over Immaculata.
The way Gabalski was playing for St. Francis it was going to take a lucky bounce to beat him. The sophomore was spectacular in the second half when Canisius all but lived in the Red Raiders’ territory. Gabalski stoned Armstrong in the 54th minute with a diving save to his left, and then in the 65th minute he made an outstanding save coming out to challenge James Gallaher, who was in all alone.
The sophomore made eight saves in the second half alone as Canisius fired off 15 shots.
“My hats off to [St. Francis’] goaltender today, he played a phenomenal game,” Canisius coach Sam Belsito said. “He kept them in the game numerous times. I thought we should’ve cashed in three of four times, but we stayed patient and it finally paid off.”
St. Francis beat Canisius (12-4-3) twice during the regular season, but Red Raiders coach Mike Smolinski said he changed his formation for this game to load up the defense and midfield. The move gave St. Francis the defense it needed, but the offense only had one shot on target the entire game.
Canisius moves on to the Catholic state playoffs at St. John’s University in Queens, but because of Superstorm Sandy, the Crusaders don’t know who or when they will play.
Jenna Tomizzi’s goal five minutes into the second half was all the scoring that Sacred Heart needed to finally break through and earn a state berth as it has been denied by Nichols in the North Division title game the last three years.
Sacred Heart goalkeeper Alexandra Dwyer and her defense fended off Nardin’s relentless second-half pressure to secure the win and the shutout — the team’s ninth of the season.
“They say offense wins games, defense wins championships — we’ve given up six goals all year, and three of them were in the first two games of the season,” Sacred Heart coach Amy Drozen said. “The defense really has pulled through. They’ve done everything for us. Without them there’s no way that this season would’ve happened, much less this game.”
Sacred Heart only has to travel to Nichols School for the state Catholic playoffs, but like Canisius, its opponent and game date have yet to be determined because of the storm.
In the opening game, Christian Central got two goals from Mary Pappagallo in the opening 10 minutes, and the Lady Crusaders (14-2-3) never looked back. Faith LoHouse picked up her eighth shutout of the year. “We really showed we wanted it today,” CCA coach Joseph Karnath said.