HAMDEN >> With each step he took, Avon’s John St. Onge kept saying the same thing over and over again.
“‘It’s going to be a goal. I’m going to score,’” St. Onge kept repeating. “It was the only thought in my head.”
He took the fifth, and final penalty kick for Avon Wednesday night in the Class L state boys soccer semifinals at Hamden High. Hand goalkeeper Curtis Henry guessed right and St. Onge slipped it in behind Henry.
The deciding penalty kick puts No. 14 seed Avon in the L state final for the second straight year, fourth in the last five years and for the 16th time overall.
“I kind of planned it out beforehand. I hit it where I wanted to hit it,” St. Onge said. “No one expected it. We didn’t know who were going to get goals from, yet kids stepped up the whole season. It means so much to everyone here.”
Avon (15-5), which was a co-champion with Branford last year, will face No. 5 Wethersfield Saturday in the final at 1 p.m. at Middletown High.
“For this group to get back there is a huge achievement,” Avon coach David Zlatin said. “I told their coach I thought they were the better team tonight. … It’s really a tough way for either team to lose on PKs.”
The 3-1 loss in PKs (the game was deadlocked at 2 through regulation and a pair of 10-minute overtimes) was a “difficult one to swallow” for Hand coach Stan Latkowski. The second-seeded Tigers did not lose a single game on the field this season.
But the two games the Tigers (17-2-1) lost this season were both in the penalty kicks. Hand lost to Hamden in the SCC tournament quarterfinals.
“Kids at this age, it’s hard to step up in that situation and take one. It’s unfortunate the game has to end like that,” Latkowski said. “Soccer is a great game but the best team doesn’t always win. And these kids deserved a better fate. Sometimes, it’s not just fair, it really is.”
Matt Henry was the only Tiger to make a PK. Avon goalkeeper Dan Magrini saved the first three.
“When it comes down to it, I go the way my gut is telling me to do,” Magrini said. “I know sometimes buy the way they run up (to the ball)….It’s definitely very special, awesome to be back in the finals.”
Jack Keenan scored both goals for Avon, then made the first PK. Henry saved the next two before Brendon Brown put Avon up 2-0. Henry’s make set the stage for St. Onge.
And it left Hand, which reached its third state semifinal in the last four years, short of reaching its first final since 1999.
“My kids played hard, they played well. The effort was there,” Latkowski said. “I thought it was our best game of the year, the way we moved the ball. … I can accept defeat when you don’t play well and the team is better than you. I can deal with that. When you come out and play the way we did and lose in penalties, that’s difficult. … That’s difficult for any kid.”
The two goals in the first half came within 37 seconds of one another. Hand scored first as Drew Montgomery headed one past Magrini with just under 12 minutes gone by in the first half.
Keenan answered for the Falcons, then scored his second goal when he beat Henry to the lower left corner nearly 13 minutes into the second half. John Gulcicek answered for Hand with 23 minutes left in regulation when he scored off a rebound.
Avon 2, Hand 2 (Avon advances 3-1 PKs)
Avon 1 1 0 0 — 2
Hand 1 1 0 0 — 2
First half—HD: Drew Montgomery 11:42; Avon: Jack Keenan 12:19; Second half—Avon: Jack Keenan 52:46; HD: John Gulcicek 57:00;
Shots—Avon: 10; HD: 17;
Saves—Avon: Dan Magrini 6; HD: Curtis Henry 3