The natural athleticism of Samantha Ligi came in handy Wednesday afternoon at the James Jerome Sports Complex.
The 14-year-old Grade 9 keeper for the Espanola Spartans not only stopped all four shootout penalty shots that she faced, but also buried the first strike for coach Richard Brock and company, helping the Spartans to a 1-0 (2-0) win over the Sacré-Coeur Griffons in SDSSAA Second Division quarter-final action.
After Ligi made good on the first Espanola attempt, three straight misses allowed teammate Sarah Turner to seal the victory on the fifth and final shot for the Spartans.
A striker with a competitive team in Chatham last summer, Ligi stepped in to fill a void this spring up north.
"We had no one else to play in net, so I volunteered," she said. "I'm athletic, I play pretty much every sport, and I'm not afraid of the ball."
After dropping a 2-0 decision to the Griffons in regular-season play, Espanola reverted to a more defensive approach, looking to counter effectively and understanding they would need to be opportunistic.
Thankfully, some of the effort in their team workouts clearly paid off.
"We worked on penalty kicks in practice, usually doing a shootout at the end of every practice," explained Ligi.
"I have to watch the shooters, where they look, how they shoot, and you learn from there."
The Spartans now move on to face the St. Benedict Bears in semifinal play, with the Lively Hawks and Lasalle Lancers tangling in the remaining matchup.
The Hawks disposed of the Sudbury Secondary North Stars Wednesday by a final count of 6-2 as Tara St-Jean led the way with a hat trick. Jamie Duncanson, Katie Lapierre and Tatum Hurley rounded out the scoring for Lively, with Meghan Cushie netting both goals for the North Stars.
In the boys second division quarter-finals, Cray Roberge scored twice, lifting the Sacré-Coeur Griffons to a 2-1 win over Sudbury Secondary, while the Horizon Aigles outlasted the Lively Hawks in the other game, picking up a 1-0 victory in extra time.
The Second Division soccer finals are set for Monday at the James Jerome Complex, with the girls taking to the pitch at 4 p.m. and the lads following suit at 6 p.m.