BRANFORD — It took almost 29 minutes for Branford to be able to take a collective breath.
After dominating the play, it took until just over one minute left in the first half before Andrea Amarante scored the first goal Saturday afternoon in a 2-0 win over Mercy 2-0 in the first round of the Southern Connecticut Conference Division A field hockey playoffs at Cathy & John McGuirk Field Hockey Field.
Fourth-seeded Branford (6-5) will visit top-seeded Cheshire at 3 p.m. Monday in the Division A semifinals. Hand will travel to Guilford in the other semifinal. The championship is Nov. 11.
“I was pretty confident we’d put something together,” Branford coach Pete Frye said. “It was just a matter of us getting the spacing right. We had good opportunities and eventually one is going to come if you continually have good shots.”
Branford had a couple of good chances with Amarante and Nora Longway getting in tight on Mercy goalie Reilly Keegan in the first 22 minutes, but Keegan was able to push the shots aside.
Finally, with 1:16 remaining in the second quarter, Julia McHenry flipped a high pass into the middle and Amarante converted it from about 10 yards out into the left side of the cage to 1-0.
It remained that way with a lot of play in the middle of the field over the next 30 minutes until there was 1:24 left.
With Mercy’s Lily Schoonmaker in the penalty box and Branford holding a one-man advantage, the Hornets tacked on an insurance goal. Amarante tipped the ball off her stick from the post and the ball went into he middle of the middle right to Scout Engstrom, who hit the ball right to freshman Raiyn Fries, who tapped it in from the right post.
“I think we did well with switching the field and being aggressive,” Fries said. “We also had a great performance.”
Mercy coach Madison DeRita said that the Tigers had a hard time adjusting to the Branford turf field. Mercy (2-9) plays on grass on its home field in Middletown.
“It’s a big transition for us and we struggle figuring it out,” DeRita said. “They had the home field advantage and outhustled us. It’s just getting our girls up the field. A lot of times we bunched together on the field.”
Branford outshot Mercy, 10-5. Nina Shamas had five saves for Branford, while Keegan stopped three Hornet shots.
“It was a possession game where we continually were attacking them,” Frye said. “A couple of times they got through, Nina took just two direct shots.”