GUILFORD — Close, low-scoring games have been the norm throughout the season for the Guilford boys soccer team. The Indians have only scored more than two goals six times.
But two of those games came in the opening two rounds of the Class L state tournament. Guilford continued that offensive trend on Saturday — albeit in a more dramatic fashion.
Mete Yanbul came through with a hat trick for the third-seeded Indians in a 3-0 victory over No. 11 Branford in a quarterfinal-round matchup of Southern Connecticut Conference teams at Guilford High.
“We’ve been relying heavily on defense, so watching him come out and put a show on like that is unreal because he is so talented. It was great to see it,” senior captain Ethan Skinner said about Yanbul’s performance.
It was the 10th shutout of the season for the Indians and the first one in the Class L tournament.
“We are fortunate right now to have kids who fly around and play defense, few kids who can score goals and I have a pretty big goalkeeper,” Guilford coach Joe Maher said. “So we have a lot of ingredients that equal success and wins.”
So Guilford (17-2-1) advances to the L semifinals for the second straight season, and the 12th time in Maher’s 24-year career with the Indians. They will face the same opponent for the second straight season – a very familiar opponent.
No. 10 seed Hand, which eliminated No. 15 Maloney in the quarterfinals, awaits Monday at 6:30 p.m. at West Haven High.
“We have beaten them twice before. We know how they play and they know how we play,” Yanbul said. “We have the confidence right now the way we are playing on offense. We are ready.”
The Indians swept the regular-season series from the Tigers, but Hand is the defending champion, beating Guilford 3-0 in last year’s semis.
“It comes down to basically who wants to move onto the finals,” Maher said. “Both teams have the ability to move onto the finals. We’ll see who gets the break and puts the ball in the goal.”
Guilford had the shot advantage (7-2) in Saturday’s opening half, but the game remained scoreless until Yanbul beat Branford goalkeeper Praneeth Ganedi to the right side with 2:46 left before halftime.
“Getting the first goal is always a major factor in state tournament play,” Maher said.
The backbreaker came almost 10 minutes into the second half. Tim Weil served a long ball into the box and Yanbul was able to score again.
“We’ve been trying to do that play every game of the year and it connected today,” Yanbul said.
The Hornets (13-6-1) had some chances to cut the deficit in half, but Guilford’s defense held firm. Then Eric LePeak fired a cross to Yanbul to complete the hat trick with 10:53 left.
“The second one was kind of a killer,” Branford coach Paul Hunter said. “We had to push more kids forward. … I’m very proud of what the kids have accomplished. They had a great, great year. They did an outstanding job all year long.”