CHESHIRE >> For Hand head coach Sue Leckey, and her daughter Hannah, the dream of bringing home the Tigers’ first field hockey state championship is still alive.
And the younger Leckey is a main reason why.
Her goal off a penalty corner with 11:37 left in the second half broke a 1-1 tie and rallied second-seeded Hand past No. 6 Avon 2-1 on Tuesday night in a Class M semifinal at Cheshire High.
“I made a strong pass to Erin (Mammele) and she gave it back to me,” Leckey said. “I collected it and shot it on goal, but she saved it. Luckily, it came right back to me and I had an open net.”
Hand will play Wilton, a 2-0 winner over Lauralton Hall in the other Class M semifinal, in Saturday’s championship game at Wethersfield High.
Ironically, Wilton ended Hand’s season in last year’s semifinals, also at Cheshire High. But the Tigers left Cheshire in a much better mood this time around.
It took some second-half heroics to get past a skilled Avon (14-3-1) team. The Falcons controlled play for much of the first half and took a 1-0 lead when Karina Bucci took a feed from Rachel Moore and beat Hand goalie Mel Rennie with 17:47 to go before halftime.
“We played well in the first half and a good part of the second half,” Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki said. “The difference was they have some real good shooters and we gave them too many chances in the second half. We played well, we just didn’t put it in the net when we had our chances.”
Hand had some quality scoring chances late in the first half and early in the second, but couldn’t solve Avon goalie Natalie Sawicki. The senior recorded 11 shutouts this season.
Hand, which improved to 19-2-1, finally pulled even with 18:27 left in the game when junior Samantha Pavano unleashed a blast from the right corner that beat Sawicki to tie the game at 1.
“This team has taught me to believe in them,” Sue Leckey said. “They just are a great group to be around. They are unbelievably resilient. Hannah told me at halftime that she didn’t want this to be her last game. Then, her and Samantha went out and did something about it.”
Hand will be making its fifth state final appearance, still in search of its first championship. The last time the Tigers made it this far, they fell to Darien 3-2 in the 2010 final.
Hand 2, Avon 1
Avon 1 0 — 1
Hand 0 2 — 2
First half—Avon: Karina Bucci (Rachel Moore) 17:41; Second half—HD: Samantha Pavano 18:27; Hannah Leckey 11:37;
Shots—Avon: 8; HD: 11;
Saves—Avon: Natalie Sawicki 8; HD: Mel Rennie 4;
Team records—Avon 14-3-1; Hand 19-2-1