GUILFORD >> The Hand boys soccer team controlled its own destiny as it looked to claim the top seed in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament for the second straight year.
Standing in the way was Guilford Monday night in the regular-season finale on the road. Rarely is it a one-sided affair between these two border rivals, as the 1-1 tie earlier this season indicates.
It looked like another tie was in the offing in the rematch until Drew Montgomery broke through with just over 14 minutes left in regulation. The 1-0 score stood and Hand claimed the No. 1 seed at Kavanaugh Field.
“They (Guilford) are going to try and bang it over the top, try to pressure you and harass you and we stood up to it,” Hand coach Stan Latkowski said. “The sign of a good team is we can play the way we do play and if we have to play this type of game, we find a way to win the game. That’s key.”
Montgomery, a 6-foot-5 senior, received a nice ball from Owen McShane off the free kick and he back flipped it almost into the goal. Guilford’s Braden Stephens ended up knocking it in as he attempted to make a miraculous clear.
“I heel-flicked it,” Montgomery said about the goal. “It’s mostly psychological (in the Hand-Guilford game). “It’s almost not even about which team is better because each team is going to give their absolute all.”
Said Guilford coach Joe Maher: “It was a great service (from McShane). We had many opportunities to do the same thing, but we didn’t hit any dangerous balls. We had the same problem against Cheshire the other night. We’ve been playing well defensively. Offensively we’ve been very inept and not able to finish.”
The SCC tournament pairings don’t become official until today at the earliest. But after the completion of Monday’s games, it looks like Hand (11-1-4) will host No. 8 Guilford (7-5-4) in Saturday’s quarterfinals at the Surf Club in Madison.
Guilford’s backup goalkeeper, Ian Slattery, held his own against the Tigers in the second half, making three saves. He came on late in the first half for starter Orlando Diaz.
Diaz made a nice save on a line shot from Brendan Wray, but he couldn’t control it. The ball bounced around and Diaz was among the scrum. He eventually reached behind him to secure the ball, but had to leave the game with a possible head injury with 25.5 seconds left, according to Maher.
“He’s started a few games for us. He’s only a sophomore, he’s a varsity keeper. I’m happy with him,” Maher said about Slattery.
After Montgomery’s goal, Guilford had just one shot attempt at the tying goal, and it flew over the crossbar. Latkowski credited his defense, in large part sophomore Thomas LaTorre, who came in off the bench to help the cause.
Hand comes into the postseason having won seven straight games. No. 8 seed Hamden upset Hand in penalty kicks in last year’s SCC quarterfinals before the Tigers advanced to the Class L semifinals.
“The boys believe right now,” Latkowski said. “I think we will be ready, without a doubt. This is the most healthy we have been in four years (at this point of the season). If they play their best game, we will be a tough out. I think we are playing our best soccer at the right time of the year.”
Hand 1, Guilford 0
Hand 0 1 — 1
Guilford 0 0 — 0
Second half—HD: Drew Montgomery (Owen McShane) 66:00; Shots—HD: 6; GU: 5; Saves—HD: Matthew Parker 3; GU: Ian Slattery 3; Orlando Diaz 2.
Records—Hand 11-1-4; Guilford 7-5-4.