Banner Season: Lions, Varsity Blues score upset wins to set up all-GTA championship clash

Photo by Greg Mason
Photo by Greg Mason

Ottawa, Ont. (via Ottawa Gee-Gees) - It took three goals in extra time and a white-knuckle finish, but the York Lions advanced to the OUA Final with a 3-2 victory over the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees Friday evening at Gee-Gees Field.

Marissa Castellano got the pivotal goal off a corner kick in the 115th minute to break a 2-2 deadlock and send the Lions to the brink of an OUA Championship.

“Our girls showed resiliency,” said Lions head coach Carmine Isacco. “[Ottawa] are the best team in the nation for a reason. We thought if we held them for the first 15 minutes of extra time, we would get some opportunities in the last 15. I think we did a good job of that.”

Both teams battled blustery and windy conditions throughout the match. Originally scheduled to kickoff at 11:00 a.m., the match was forced to start at 4:00 p.m. due to the windy weather.

The Gee-Gees opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Katherine Bearne spun a textbook free kick around the wall from 25 yards out, leaving goalkeeper Danitza Indacochea no chance as it sailed into the right corner of the net.

The goal seemed to wake up the Lions, who bit back in the 35th minute. Kiyani Johnson chipped the ball past the Gee-Gees defence and lofted it over Margot Shore. Théa Nour made a last-ditch, diving attempt to clear the ball that was floating towards the empty net, but ended up directing it in herself.

The wind died down in the second half and there was nothing to separate the teams. Extra time was needed to decide who would earn a berth in the final.

The second half and the majority of the first half of extra time yielded few offensive chances. York looked to make it through to the final with a miracle, 35-yard chip from Kalifornia Mitchell in the 101st minute.

However, following a Gee-Gee free kick that was only half cleared, Mikayla Morton pounded the ball past Indacochea to draw even.

The lead would last no more than three minutes however, as Castellano got on the end of a loose ball in the box and beat Shore from close range.

“The ball was bouncing, and it came to my left foot,” said Castellano. “I’ve never been in a situation like that before. The tension was so high and we’ve worked all season for this. It was just amazing that we got the result.”

The Gee-Gees nearly tied the game in the dying moments. A Kaylane Hogue drive from the top of the 18-yard box hit the crossbar and bounced down, but ultimately would not cross the goal line.

“We never had to play from behind all season,” said Gee-Gees head coach Steve Johnson. “There was a question about whether we’d be able to fight back in difficult conditions. I think we can be happy with that response.”

With the result, York will face the Toronto Varsity Blues in the championship after the Blues took care of business in the second game of the night.

It looked to be a game that was always destined for spot kicks, and even with two goals in injury time, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues and Western Mustangs went to penalties on Friday night at Gee-Gees Field, with the Varsity Blues emerging victorious.

"It kind of sums up our season,” said Varsity Blues head coach Angelo Cavalluzzo. “This is a group of players that is so driven to succeed. Even when we are not playing well, we still find a way to get results – that’s what good teams do.”

There nothing to separate the teams through the first 90 minutes. Varsity Blues goalkeeper Levanta Staggolis made a terrific diving save ten minutes into the match, but that was the only time either keeper was threatened.

The same narrative played out through the first half of extra time, until Giulia Geraci of the Mustangs swung in a corner that found its way through a mass of bodies and into the back of the net.

The lead would be short lived, however. Within a minute of the second half of extra time commencing, Toronto’s Miranda Badovinac broke into the box and put home her own rebound to level the score. It was Badovinac’s league-leading fourth goal of the playoffs, and the score would remain tied heading into spot kicks.

The Varsity Blues led by one shot with the final Mustangs shooter of the first five jogging up. Maddy Skinner’s power shot was parried away by Staggolis, sending Toronto through to the final.

“We definitely came out strong in the second period and wanted it really badly,” said Varsity Blues captain Maddie MacKay. “In the shootout, we have so much faith in our keeper, but it’s nerve-wracking. It’s just a really fantastic feeling.”

This is the first appearance in the Final Four for the University of Toronto women’s soccer program in 15 seasons. They have never won the OUA championship.

“In recent years, our program, from the outside, has been deemed as a mediocre program,” said Cavalluzzo. “This group of players deserve better and we want to re-write that book so that people aren’t talking about 15 years ago anymore, they’ll be talking about 2019.”

The Varsity Blues are set to square off with the York Lions for the OUA Championship on Saturday, November 2 at 1:30 p.m. at Gee-Gees Field in Ottawa.

This was the Mustangs first loss of the season, and they will play the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees for bronze on Saturday, November 2 at 11:00 a.m.

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