Girls Advance to Basketball Championship

Newman defeats More in senior girls’ semifinal basketball
By Larry Moko

The tables have turned for two rival senior girls’ high school basketball teams.

In 2022, the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals defeated the St. Thomas More Knights both times during the regular season before losing to them at home in a semifinal playoff.

This year, however, it was More that swept a pair of games from Newman during the regular schedule. And Monday night, at More, the visiting Cardinals downed the Knights, 53-45, in semifinal action.

That sets up a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic championship game on Wednesday, Nov. 8. The Cardinals will face the two-time defending champion Cathedral Gaels, who took Monday’s other semifinal, 69-39, over the fourth-place St. Jean de Brébeuf Braves.

The league final will be played at Cathedral, at 5 p.m.

“Our girls came up with extra effort and maybe a little extra grit than they normally play with,” Newman coach Roy Milutinovic said.

More finished second in the standings with a 12-2 record while third-place Newman was 10-4. Both schools then advanced with quarter-final playoff victories.

“It doesn’t matter what you do in the regular season,” More coach Ralph Bozzo said. “This was the one we needed to win.”

It was a spirited effort by the Cardinals right from the outset.

“Our bench has been loud every game regardless of whether we’re winning or losing,” Milutinovic said. “Even last week when we lost to them (the Knights) by double digits we were cheering on the bench. That’s who we are.”

The Cardinals put together a 10-0 run in the second quarter to grab a 26-20 lead. Back-to-back 3s by veterans Larissa Ruggiero and Mia Persia then sparked Newman to a 35-26 advantage midway through the second quarter.

Trailing 39-31 after three quarters, More cut the deficit to one point but could never regain the lead.

Ruggiero netted eight of her game-high 18 points in the final quarter. Persia added 11 points while teammates Grace MacDonald and Julia Romano chipped in with seven apiece.

“We had a lot of positive energy coming into the game,” Ruggiero said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times.

“Going into the game we had a plan. And we all executed the plan. Even girls that weren’t able to get on the court had a lot of energy on the bench. It was a good collective team win.”

For More, Isabella Moro was the top scorer with 16 points. Grace Ammendolia contributed eight while Milania Bozzo and Mia Mazzuca added seven apiece.

Milutinovic said the Cardinals added a few new defensive wrinkles on defence that More hadn’t seen before. And at practice Newman focused on what More does on some of its offensive sets.

More’s coach said the loss was “very disappointing” because St. Thomas More along with Cathedral will be the two sites for the OFSAA girls’ AAA tournament later this month.

“We had an opportunity to get there with two GHAC teams going to OFSAA,” Bozzo said. “You’ve got to make it to GHAC in order to make it to OFSAA. Unfortunately, we fell short.”

The More coach said his team’s offence was sputtering. “In large part, our shots weren’t falling,” he said. “We’re usually a pretty good shooting team. They clogged the middle on us. We weren’t hitting shots when we needed to make them and they were. That was a difference maker.”

Bozzo said all of the Knights who saw action gave it their all. “Izzie (Moro) has been our go-to offensive girl all year. She was a little under the weather tonight but still stepped up and gave a great performance for us.”

Cathedral has won the last two consecutive OFSAA titles and enters this year’s Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic final riding a 79-game winning streak.