BRANFORD — The defending champions are moving on.
Second-seeded Branford, which won the Southern Connecticut Conference girls’ soccer title in 2012, continued its march toward a berth in the final for the second straight season with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory over No. 7 Hand on a windy Saturday afternoon at the James MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex.
“I didn’t think we played that well,” Branford coach Jen Kohut said after her team improved to 15-1-1. “I felt we were a little out of sorts and our possessions are usually a little better. It was hard running against that wind.”
Despite dominating possession of the ball for the entire game, it took the Hornets until the 33:07 mark of the first half to get on the board. And they did that with some help from Hand.
Hand’s Lauren Brandau was whistled for a hand ball in front of the Branford bench when she put her hand up and knocked down a shot.
After the referees huddled near midfield, they awarded the Hornets a penalty shot. Tanya Altrui put the shot into the upper-right corner of the net past Hand goalkeeper Amy Boswell, who couldn’t get anywhere close to the shot to knock it away.
“I’m pretty confident in that direction and I always take it the same way,” Altrui said. “I was looking for a clean hard shot that the wind wouldn’t affect.”
Kohut thought that goal was huge in the context of the game.
“We needed something to get the momentum,” Kohut said. “We had controlled the better part of the play, so I knew something would happen for us.”
The second half was more even with Hand getting its best chance of the afternoon with the ball rattling around in the box with just 8:42 remaining in the game, but Branford goalkeeper Becca Vitale was able to get her hands on the ball. Just a minute and a half later, the Hornets put the game away.
After a corner kick, the ball hit off Emma Pottenger’s leg and went right to Jenna Vitale, who kicked it past Boswell into the left corner of the net for an insurance goal.
“The wind was a huge factor today and we couldn’t get the ball inside the 30 in the first half,” said Hand coach Katie Keogh, whose team fell to 6-4-7.
Branford outshot Hand 13-4. Boswell had 12 saves and Vitale just one.
“We need to work more as a team,” Keogh said. “We need to get the ball where we need to go and read the play. Now we’ll get ready for the state tournament.”