By Larry Moko
The St. Thomas More Knights’ defence allowed just 14 second-half points en route to a come-from-behind girls’ high school playoff basketball victory.
Trailing by 10 points at the half, More rallied to defeat the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals, 48-45, in a Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic semifinal Wednesday.
With that result, the third-place Knights advance to the league championship game Friday at Cathedral against the Gaels. First-place Cathedral punched its ticket with a 64-17 decision over the fourth-place St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves.
“Our perimeter defence in the first half wasn’t great,” More coach Ralph Bozzo said. “Newman was hitting uncontested threes.
“I thought we tightened up more in the second half. It’s our defence that made it tough on them and pulled us through.”
Second-place Newman put together a run of 14 unanswered points during one stretch the opening half. Six of the Cardinals’ three-pointers before the intermission were shared by Mia Persia, Grace MacDonald, Larissa Ruggiero and Liliana Bozzo.
The Knights trailed for most of the contest until Tess MacLeod’s three-point basket with one minute, 50 seconds remaining gave the visitors a 44-43 lead.
More then increased its advantage to four points on a pair of successful free throws by MacLeod. With 10.9 seconds left, Isabella Moro grabbed a defensive rebound, drew a foul and made one of two free throws to round out the scoring for More.
“I think it was a well-deserved win,” said Moro, who scored a game-high 16 points. “We really came back. We put it all on the floor with hustle.”
Moro, who also plays rep basketball for the Kitchener Vipers, was confident that the Knights could bounce back despite having lost both regular-season meetings against the Cardinals.
“I thought we had a good chance of winning at the end,” she said. “We were both in the bonus (five fouls apiece) and we were winning by four points. So if they got a three, it’s our ball and we could still hold it.”
Offensively, More also got 14 points by MacLeod, 11 by Grace Ammendolia and five by Mackenzie McFedries.
The Cardinals’ top scorers were MacDonald (11), Ruggiero (10), Emi Vlatkovic (10) and Persia (6).
“All of our girls played outstanding today,” the More coach said. “Everyone really contributed at both ends of the floor. It was a total team effort.”
More finished the regular season with a record of 6-4 before eliminating the sixth-place Bishop Ryan Celtics, 61-43, in a quarter-final.
“All year Grace Ammendolia and Isabella Moro have been our top scorers every game,” Bozzo said. “They’ve really been our backbone and the heart and soul of the team.
“But I think everybody else has really rallied around them to be key pieces to the big puzzle.”
More will need a much big upset in the final, however. Cathedral, the defending OFSAA champion at AAA, hasn’t lost in two years.
“They’ve got a great streak going, that’s for sure,” Bozzo said. “They’re a tough team, but anybody can be beaten on any given day.”