By STEVE KIRCK / Special to GameTimeCT
HAMDEN >> Life doesn’t afford you many second chances.
The second-seeded Barlow boys soccer team made sure to take full advantage of their second opportunity in Wednesday night’s Class L semifinal matchup with No. 11 Hand.
Almost a year to the day from when Hand traveled to Barlow and handed the Falcons their lone loss of the season in the Class L quarterfinals, Barlow returned the favor by eliminating Hand by the same 3-0 final from their Nov. 14, 2012 matchup.
“It was a bad day in Black Rock when they beat us last year,” Barlow coach Paul Winstanley said. “I guess turnaround is fair play.
“When we saw the brackets, we were hoping for some redemption. I told the kids the opportunity is there, but you have to play well and smart. They answered the bell. I am proud of them.”
Barlow advances to play eighth-seeded and defending state champion Farmington — a 4-0 winner over Pomperaug in the other semifinal — in the Class L championship game Saturday at 11 a.m. at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury.
The Falcons (17-1-1) used a dominant first half, scoring two goals in the final 6:25, to give themselves a comfortable lead. Hand’s defense was effective early, forcing four offsides before Barlow was able to finally get on the board off a corner kick.
Peter Gaffney’s cross was originally headed by Ryan Corr, but the ball caromed to Corey Levine, whose header hit the crossbar and fell into the arms of Hand goalie Nicholas Nelson.
But Nelson was standing in the goal. After a brief discussion, the officials credited Levine with the goal.
Barlow added to their lead on a brilliantly placed shot by Will Bracken with 1:42 left in the first half. Bracken took the ball at midfield and raced to the goal, veering to his left before placing a shot that eluded Nelson and ended up in the far-right corner of the net.
“They are a very good team,” Hand coach Stan Latkowski said. “We couldn’t play the way we wanted, and credit them for that. Then they got those two goals late in the first half. The second one hurt the most. That kind of demoralized us.”
Bracken added his second goal of the game midway through the second half, chipping the ball over Nelson on a semi-breakaway to provide the final margin.
Hand ended its season with a 13-5-3 mark.
“We battled to the end,” Latkowski said. “This team showed heart and character, won 13 games, and left it on the field. Barlow just played better tonight.”
Barlow will be making its first title game appearance since being declared co-champs with Brookfield in 2007. Barlow and Farmington met in the 1996 Class M championship game with Farmington prevailing 3-1.