WEST HAVEN — For the second straight season, Hand and Guilford squared off for the right to play in the Class L boys soccer state championship game.
The two Southern Connecticut Conference rivals battled for a third time this season Monday night. Guilford swept the regular season, but Hand turned the tables to return to the L final for the second straight year.
Owen McShane’s first-half goal was all the No. 10 seeded Tigers needed to advance 1-0 over No. 3 Guilford at Ken Strong Stadium.
“I didn’t think they were going to score at all,” McShane said. “In the back with Tommy LaTorre, Liam Akers and Cole Finke, we’ve been solid ever since Soccer Extreme (a preseason camp) all together. There’s no way you can break us down.”
It was the third straight shutout for the Tigers (18-3-2), who are one step away from successfully defending their Class L state championship. Standing in the way is No. 4 Masuk in the finals Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“This is a hard-working group that doesn’t quit,” Hand interim coach Anthony Mancini said.
Monday’s win was also on the same field where Hand won the SCC tournament title 11 days earlier. The Tigers are in the midst of a seven-game postseason winning streak.
The Indians (17-3-1) applied a lot of pressure over the latter stages of the second half, but Hand’s defense rose to the occasion. And whatever those Tigers couldn’t get to, the last line of defense did.
Goalkeeper Thomas Hobin came up with four crucial saves in the second half, including one in the game’s final seconds to preserve the shutout.
“Timmy made two great saves in the last seven or eight minutes, held his line and did a great job,” Mancini said. “They put a lot of pressure on us and he saved us.”
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Said McShane: “Tommy Hobin has been working his butt off all year, just right place at the right time. He read it. No worries back there, no worries.”
In both regular-season meetings, Hand never led against Guilford. In fact, the Indians had rarely trailed at all throughout the season.
The Tigers took the lead on the game’s second shot less than 7 minutes into the game. McShane scored off a scramble in front of the net after Lee Wilderman served the ball into the box.
“The keeper (Ian Slattery) had a good save, but I was right there to finish it,” McShane said. “Got it right off the rebound.”
Said Mancini: “It’s so important to get the first goal. They had to get a little more aggressive and couldn’t sit back. If they get that first goal, they like to put nine or 10 back behind the ball.”
Guilford kept trying to get the equalizer, eventually sacrificing defense — it’s forte throughout the season — to get numbers up on offense.
“We didn’t have a shot on goal the entire first half and we didn’t have a shot on goal for half of the second half either until we went with three up top,” Guilford coach Joe Maher said. “Their midfield won the game for them. Their midfield basically overwhelmed ours. We couldn’t connect any passes and as a result, you don’t get any shots.”
Guilford had a chance to knot it up midway through the second half. A fierce collision between Hobin and Guilford’s Eric LePeak resulted in Hobin getting a yellow card.
Clayton Knibbs replaced Hobin for Guilford’s free kick and shot attempt that went wide. Hobin then reentered the game.
While Hand tries to win its second straight state title, Guilford fell short of reaching its first state final since 2000.
“I didn’t expect to be in this position tonight or be a three seed, to tell you the truth, and get three homes games (in the state tournament),” Maher said. “My hat is off to these kids, they had a great year. Hopefully next year, we can build off of this.”