MADISON >> Hand’s Joe Guay and his teammates knew it was just a matter of time before the Tigers found the back of the goal against Shelton.
After the Tigers dominated possession in the first half, but came away without a goal, Guay decided to do something to change the complexion of the contest.
In a battle in front off a corner kick, Guay’s header found the lower left corner of the goal just 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the second half as second-seeded Hand defeated third-seeded Shelton 1-0 in a Southern Connecticut Conference semifinal at the Surf Club Monday evening in a battle of unbeaten teams.
“All year, my role has been to get headers in,” Guay said after his team improved to 14-0-4. “It feels good to get one in. We knew it was going to be a close game. The last two years we have been knocked out in the first round. It feels good to get there. We are just going to keep working hard.”
The Tigers will face No. 5 Fairfield Prep, a 4-3 winner over top-seeded Lyman Hall in the other semifinal, Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at East Haven High. Hand will be looking for its second conference title and first since 2010, when the Tigers defeated Guilford.
“It has been four years since we have been to the finals,” Hand coach Stan Latkowski said. “That is one of our goals every year. Fairfield Prep started out slowly, but they have really picked up the pace. It should be a good game.”
Guay’s winner was a thing of beauty as Alex Cinicolo’s corner was headed by Cole McArdle in front. With the ball still in the air, Guay moved in and won the battle to head the shot past Shelton goalkeeper Chris Carew.
“Joe Guay has been one of my biggest surprises all year,” Latkowski said. “He works so hard to win every ball. He is such a hard worker. Tonight, he was rewarded for it.”
The Tigers continued to pressure in the second half and looked as if they would increase the lead with 28 minutes to go. A rocket by Austin Doktorski from 25 yards out was punched away by Carew, keeping the Gaels down by only one goal.
“We are not a first-half team,” Shelton coach Joe D’Auria said after his team fell to 11-1-6. “We like to play chess. They came at us in the first half. In the second half, we came out and attacked well. Our possession was okay. We knew one goal would probably come off a re-start. They are a good, solid team. We will take the positives out of the loss. We see how it feels to lose. There are things we can work on.”
The Gaels did not have many scoring opportunities in the second half thanks to the strong defensive play of the Hand defense. Shelton’s best scoring chance in the final 40 minutes, a high and looping shot from Ryan Smith off an angle shot, was punched away by Hand goalkeeper Charles Henry 17:20 into the second half.
“My goalkeeper is unbelievable,” Latkowski said of Henry. “He is very athletic. He was able to punch that ball away. Not many goalkeepers would get to that ball.”
The Tigers dominated the entire first half, with over 35 minutes of action in the Shelton end of the field. Hand had its opportunities, but Carew used his aggressive style to stymie the Tigers.
Carew, who finished with seven saves, set the tone for the half and a majority of the contest for the Gaels when he raced out to challenge a rocket off the foot of Doktorski from 20 yards out. Doktorski’s blast was denied by Carew with a sliding save with 15:30 gone by in the contest.
Hand had plenty of opportunities in the half, but came closest to a goal with 23:56 remaining off a corner from Cinicolo. Off a scramble in front, a Hand shot sailed off the crossbar from 18 yards out.
While Shelton did not have the time of possession in the Hand end of the field in the opening half, the Gaels did have some quality chances. Brian Chilet ripped a shot of the crossbar from 25 yards out 13:50 into the contest and a lofted shot by Isaijah Robles from 35 yards out was turned aside by Henry with 23:30 remaining in the first half.
The Gaels thought they had gotten on the scoreboard with 7:40 remaining in the opening half, but a goal by Wesley Kocurek was wiped away with an offsides call.
Henry made four saves in the shutout for the Tigers.
Hand 1, Shelton 0
Shelton 0 0 — 0
Hand 0 1 — 1
Second half—HD: Joe Guay (Cole Mcardle) 42:30;
Shots—SHE: 4; HD: 8;
Saves—SHE: chris carew 7; HD: Charles Henry 4;
Records—Shelton 11-1-6; Hand 14-0-4