Thanks in large part to Steve Sawatzky's educated guess, the Sons of Italy Lions are headed back to nationals.
The Sons of Italy edged FC Lusitania 2-1 in last night's Manitoba Soccer Association Cup senior men's final in front of 600 spectators at Winnipeg Soccer Complex.
The Lions will compete in the national tournament in Halifax in October. Last night's triumph gave them their fourth MSA Cup title since 1996 and first since 2002, when they went on to capture a Canadian crown.
"It's been like a bad dream almost," Lions player-coach Tony Nocita said of the last four seasons. "Because if you look at our record in the last three or four years, I would say probably out of 100 games we've won 95 and lost just a Cup game or two."
Thanks to Sawatzky, the Sons goalkeeper, their MSA Cup losing streak was in no danger of continuing last night.
Shortly after Justin Parry gave the Lions a 1-0 lead in the 47th minute, Lusitania was awarded a penalty kick. Ken Sacremento took the shot for an injured Sanel Mendin and fired a bullet towards the left corner.
Unfortunately for Sacremento, that's exactly where Sawatzky was headed.
"A lot of times it comes down to nerves a little bit and a little bit of luck," said Sawatzky, who has been with the Lions since they were incorporated 12 years ago.
"I just had a feeling that was the way that he was going to go, based on the way that he plays a little bit. I made my mind up I was going that way early."
It was a huge save, and 14 minutes later 20-year-old Adam Hajkowski put the Lions up 2-0. Chris Lourenco, in the 69th minute, got Lusitania on the board, but it couldn't get the equalizer.
"That save was a key," Lusitania manager Rick Moreira said. "You have to give the goalie credit. That's why he's one of the best. It was a great save. It definitely was a game-breaker."
In the senior women's final yesterday afternoon, Laura Locke and Karli Colpitts both scored twice to propel Sweat Shack past Team United 4-1. Stephanie Rurak had the lone goal for United.
Meanwhile, in the under-18 boys' and girls' provincial finals yesterday, the Bonivital Flames ruled the pitch.
Ben Getachew scored in overtime to lead Bonivital past South End United 1-0 in the boys' final, while Ali Kastner had the only goal in the Flames' 1-0 victory over the Northern Lights.
The senior women's nationals are also in Halifax, at the same time as the men's event, while both Bonivital squads will compete at the under-18 national tournament in Fredericton, also in October.