The Class L state semifinal game had only been completed a few minutes earlier, yet Hand’s John Gulcicek had already turned his focus onto Saturday’s Class L boys soccer final.
“Barlow, three years ago,” the senior co-captain said. “Barlow, 3-0.”
Yes, it is No. 13 seed Barlow that awaits the second-seeded Hand Tigers in Saturday’s Class L final at 11 a.m. at Middletown High. Gulcicek started as a freshman for Hand, which lost to Barlow by that 3-0 count in the 2013 Class L semifinals.
Hand also lost to Barlow in the 2014 Class L second round by the score of — you guessed it — 3-0. Both results are equally painful for a traditionally strong program making just its first appearance in a state final since 1999.
“Barlow has been a nemesis. Every time we play them, it’s a tough game,” Hand coach Stan Latkowski said. “They almost feels like a rival to us even though they are clearly an hour and 10 minutes away from us. They knock it around well, they are well-coached, well-organized, tough to break down because they sit back. It will be a good game.”
The state semifinals had been sort of a bugaboo for the Tigers. Wednesday’s victory over rival Guilford was the fourth appearance in the last five seasons. Last year may have been the toughest – losing to Avon in penalty kicks in a game Hand dominated.
Hand won’t have to worry about penalty kicks on Saturday — only two 10-minute overtime periods are used to determine a winner, otherwise its co-champions. That’s the last thing either side wants. Hand will be looking to get out to a quick start against the Falcons, which upset top-seeded E.O. Smith in the semifinals on penalty kicks.
“We’ll work on set pieces, that’s always important,” Gulcicek said. “If you put a set piece away, you have an advantage automatically. I think if we play (our best), we are the better team.”
Lee Wildermann scored twice in the victory over Guilford. Drew Montgomery, Brendan Wray and Jake Brown are among the other weapons the Falcons will be trying to contain.
Latkowski was an assistant under Bob Faulkner — now one of Latkowski’s assistants — the last time Hand won a state championship in 1997.
“I won it numerous times as a player (at Guilford in 1978 and 1980, runner-up in 1979) and won it as an assistant,” Latkowski said. “This is important to me and for the program. The kids deserve it, they have worked hard. I hope we can finish the deal on Saturday.”
CLASS L CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL
No. 2 HAND (14-2-4) vs. No. 13 BARLOW (10-4-5)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Middletown High
Championship game appearances: Hand is 3-1, last appearing in 1999; Barlow is 7-5, last appearing in 2013.
What to look for: The Falcons didn’t qualify for the South-West Conference tournament, but they managed to get to Saturday behind a strong defense and an upset over top-seeded E.O. Smith in the semifinals. Hand came from behind on three separate occasions to beat Wethersfield in the quarterfinals and handled Guilford in the semis. Hand is looking for its first state championship in 19 years.
You should know: Barlow has beaten Hand 3-0 in the last two tournament matchups (2013 and 2014) between the two teams.