NEW BRITAIN >> Any time Hand and Guilford get together, it’s considered a big boys soccer game. Put the two rivals in a postseason game and the intensity rises several notches.
The two border rivals already met once this postseason when Guilford ousted top-seeded Hand in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament quarterfinals in penalty kicks.
Eleven days later, the teams met for a fourth time. With a berth in Saturday’s Class L state championship game on the line, it was Hand that prevailed this time.
The second-seeded Tigers defeated No. 14 Guilford 3-0 Wednesday afternoon in a Class L semifinal at Veterans Memorial Field.
“It feels like the right thing happened. The better team won,” Hand co-captain John Gulcicek said.
“I wouldn’t have had it any other way, besides the finals.”
The Class L semifinals has been quite a burden for the Tigers’ program. Hand has gotten to this round four of the past five years. The three previous trips ended one game short of the final.
“This group of kids has a lot of heart and character,” Hand coach Stan Latkowski said. “You’re not just playing another team, you are playing for the fourth time. Think about that. In soccer, that’s very rare. You know each other so well, that makes it hard to play.”
Now the Tigers (14-2-4) play in the final for the first time since 1999. Now No. 13 Barlow stands in the way of Hand’s first state championship since 1997.
“It’s important for the program. The kids deserve it,” Latkowski said. “They have worked hard. I hope we finish the deal on Saturday.”
It was a spirited run by the Indians (11-7-4), who pulled a pair of seeded road upsets just to reach the semifinals.
“If you told me we were going to be semifinalists, that was the furthest thing from my mind when the tournament started,” Guilford coach Joe Maher said.
This was the first time the two programs had squared off in the state tournament with Maher at Guilford. The Indians have long elected to play in Class LL until the last few seasons.
The Tigers made good on their first shot of the game. Brendan Wray crossed the ball to Jake Brown, who poked it home from the left side for a 1-0 lead with 22:18 left in the half.
Guilford had its scoring opportunities in the opening half, including four corner kicks, but couldn’t get the tying goal.
“We had some chances, and if you poke it in, get the momentum, and who knows what happens,” Maher said. “We keep missing and missing, that’s been the story of our year.”
Maher noted that Guilford played 14 games decided by a goal or ended up in either a tie or penalty kicks.
The Tigers made good on their first shot of the second half as well. This one came just under 8 minutes into the half, Wray with his second assist, this one to Lee Wildermann.
“Coach was yelling, ‘Shoot!’ and I just ripped it,” Wildermann said.
Said Latkowski: “First-class goal.”
Wildermann added his second one with 10:50 left, dribbling through defenders and scoring past Guilford keeper Ian Slattery to the bottom right corner.
Hand 3, Guilford 0
(at New Britain)
Guilford 0 0 — 0
Hand 1 2 — 3
First half—HD: Jake Brown (Brendan Wray) 17:42; Second half—HD: Lee Wildermann (Brendan Wray) 47:13; Lee Wildermann (Matt Broquet) 69_10;
Shots—GU: 10; HD: 8;
Saves—GU: Ian Slattery 4; HD: Matthew Parker 4;
Records—Guilford 11-7-4; Hand 14-2-4