NORTH HAVEN >> Hand figured it would try a zone defense earlier this season.
It didn’t work well.
But the No. 13 Tigers spent Monday and Tuesday working on the zone again and played it almost perfectly Wednesday afternoon as they used it to beat No. 4 North Haven, 13-5, at Vanacore Field in the first round of the CIAC Class M boys’ lacrosse state tournament.
Hand (10-8) will visit arch rival Guilford at 3 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals.
“We played man all season, but we decided to try the zone early to see how they responded to it,” said Hand coach Paul Deon. “It worked well.”
It caught North Haven somewhat by surprise and the Indians struggled to get good shots off for most of the afternoon.
“Unless you have an entire day and can teach the kids how to break down a zone, it’s hard to teach them how on a regular basis,” North Haven coach Eric Bailey said.
Hand also dominated the face-offs in the first half as Tristan Dowd won all but the opening one and another late in the second quarter. That enabled the Tigers to have possession of the ball for most of the half and they took advantage of it.
“In this game, when it’s make and take, you have to be able to win draws,” said Bailey. “We struggled a bit today. You have to give the Hand kid credit. He’s a good faceoff kid.”
That led to Hand taking a 3-0 lead after one quarter and a 6-0 edge with five minutes remaining in the second quarter. By then, midfielder Reid Sweitzer (3 goals) had a pair of goals for the Tigers.
Finally, Pat McKenna broke the drought for North Haven with a goal with 2:07 to play in the second quarter.
“They run a two-man in back of the net with two quick little guys,” said Hand’s Bryan McManus, who had three goals for the Tigers. “They couldn’t pick and feed to the middle. Instead, they were taking outside shots and our goalie (Pat Burkinshaw) right now is unstoppable.”
Burkinshaw was spectacular in the first half, stopping seven North Haven shots and he had 13 in the game.
Hand kept the pressure on in the third quarter, pushing its lead to 9-2 with 2:09 left in the quarter thanks to a pair of goals by McManus and another by Mike Cinicolo (3 goals). George McGuirk added two goals for Hand in the contest.
The Tigers took their biggest lead, 13-4, late in the fourth quarter.
“The game couldn’t have gone better,” said Deon. “We played a complete game today.”
North Haven had beaten Hand, 12-6, back on April 17 n the third game of the season.
“Early in the season, we had our struggles,” said Sweitzer. “We found the open man and finished.”
North Haven, which was ranked in the Register state poll for the first time this season, getting as high as No. 9, finished the season at 13-5.
“I told the kids they absolutely overachieved,” said Bailey. “It was all about effort for us. As a coach, that’s all I really care about. I told the kids how proud I was of them considering how many kids who play lacrosse in this town compared to other towns. We’re behind the 8-ball with kids with a good lacrosse IQ.”