BRANFORD — The Hand field hockey team was on a roll entering its regular season game with Southern Connecticut Conference rival Guilford on Oct. 19, enjoying an unbeaten record through 14 games at 12-0-2.
The Indians, always tough against SCC opponents, brought the Tigers back to earth a bit in that October matchup with a 2-0 win over Hand.
On Tuesday, Erickson Richard and goalie Kylie Gargiulo helped avenge that one blip on the Tigers’ record.
Richard scored the game-winning goal with 7 minutes, 15 seconds left in the second half and Gargiulo made three saves, including a kick save off a wide open shot from Guilford standout Olivia Clarke, to lead No. 2 Hand to a 2-1 win over No. 3 Guilford at Branford High in the Class M state semifinals Tuesday.
“I knew as soon the ball left my stick it was going into the net,” Richard said. “Sophie Schreck gave me a great pass and I took a low shot into the right corner. Tonight it was all about beating Guilford. The beat us in the regular season and tonight we came out with intensity. We got some big-time revenge for that loss to Guilford. That gave us some added motivation.
“This win tonight was truly a team effort. Kylie did an unbelievable job in goal, our defense was outstanding and everyone on the team contributed. Being in the final means everything to us.”
Hand (19-1-2) will face No. 8 New Canaan in the final at Wethersfield High on Saturday at a time to be announced. New Canaan defeated No. 4 Branford 2-1 in the other semifinal. Hand advances to their sixth Class M final with a title in 2014 (2-1 win over Wilton).
Hand coach Sue Leckey said sharper defense was the difference against Guilford in the semifinal.
“The difference in this game against Guilford compared to the game we lost was better defense,” Leckey said. “In that first game against Guilford, our goalie and our defense had some challenges they should have had answers for and tonight they did. Kylie made a huge save on a shot by Olivia Clarke.
“Erickson and all our players worked hard on every play. They believe in themselves, they know they can get it done. It’s great to be in the final again. But more important to me is that it is so incredibly awesome knowing that our girls will have that experience of playing in a state final.”
The Tigers scored early to take a 1-0 lead at halftime. Richard grabbed a loose ball and sent a pass to Taylor Leckey, coach Leckey’s daughter, who wristed a shot into the lower right corner for the 1-0 lead with 25:28 to go in the first half.
“Getting that early goal was key for us,” Sue Leckey said. “But it’s always a battle when we play Guilford. They always try to take us out of our game and tonight they did that for a while.”
Guilford had its chances to score and Olivia Clarke had the best opportunity. Clarke had a wide open shot off a penalty corner with 9:30 to go but Kylie Gargiulo kicked the ball away and it was cleared for the save.
In the second half, Guilford took advantage of one of its penalty corners to tie the game at 1. Clarke took a pass from Mallory Peters and one-timed a shot into the lower right corner of the net. The tying goal came with 17:12 to go in the second half, setting the stage for Richard’s game-winning shot.
Nicolette Spotlow had three saves for the Indians (16-4-1).