BRANFORD – Nine years of pent up frustration ended Tuesday night for the Branford girls’ lacrosse team.
It had been since 2008 since the last time the Hornets had beaten Southern Connecticut Conference rival and state power Hand.
That streak ended in the final 39 seconds as Sophie Spencer scored the game-winner with 39 seconds remaining to give Branford a 13-12 victory at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to beat them after nine years,” Spencer said. “This was our best game all year and I’m so proud of everyone.”
Branford won the game without head coach Jackie Ceccolini, who was home sick with strep throat. Her brother, Billy Alessi, took over for the night.
“I feel bad for her,” Alessi said of his sister. “This has been nine years in the making. But with the tournament and prom coming up, she didn’t want the girls to get sick. She took one for the team tonight.”
Hand led, 12-10, when Riley Kokoruda (three goals) scored with 7:09 left. That would be the last goal for Hand on the night. Branford’s Sabrina Torcellini scored her fifth goal of the night with 6:06 left and then Spencer (four goals and an assist) tied it up at 12-12 with 5:24 remaining.
Hand had a chance to go ahead again, but turned the ball over with 2:20 remaining. The Hornets held the ball all the way down to 39 seconds when Spencer put in the winner past Hand goalie Caitie Harvey.
“You never know how many opportunities you’re going to get against a team like Hand,” Alessi said. “If they had a good opportunity I wanted them to go for it, but I didn’t want them to force it. They were smart and patient a, saw it and they attacked hard.”
As important as Spencer’s winning goal was, her domination of the faceoff draws all night were even more important. Her goal was to get the ball to Autumn McHenry as much as possible.
“I was pulling as hard as I could to Autumn,” Spencer said. “She has a lot of height.”
“Usually one of our weaknesses is winning the draw,” Alessi said. “We turned it into a strength tonight and were able to control the time of possession.”
Hand coach Kevin Siedlecki said turnovers were also the difference.
“It was surprising we turned it over so much,” Siedlecki said. “That wasn’t a bad game by us. It was a great game by them to be so aggressive to turn us over so much. The way they go after the ball on the draw we also knew would be the challenge tonight.”
Siedlecki also credited Branford.
“Branford hasn’t gotten enough credit,” Siedlecki said. “They haven’t had the schedule like we have against some marquee programs, but this was a team going into the season we knew was legit. There’s no shame losing to Branford this year. What it comes down to it for us is learning from it and getting better for the postseason.”
Despite the loss, Hand still could win the SCC regular season crown. The Tigers are 5-1 in the SCC and 12-2 overall. They’ll host Cheshire (6-0, 12-3) in the regular season finale for both teams Thursday night at the Surf Club. The winner gets the top seed in next week’s SCC tournament.
Branford is now 3-3 in the SCC and 11-4 overall. The Hornets close out their regular season slate against Amity Thursday night.
“We’ve had some tough losses, including two overtime losses in the last week, so it’s nice to get over the hump,” Alessi said.