— Michael Fornabaio (@fornabaioctp) June 5, 2021
REDDING — The defense was vicious. The heat was vicious. The physicality was right up there, too.
But even down three goals at halftime at Barlow, Hand felt it had plenty left for Saturday’s second half. The Tigers scored the next six goals and hung on to win their CIAC Class M boys lacrosse semifinal 7-6.
“They got up ahead of us, but we’re a second-half team,” said Hand defender John Gagliardi, who forced a bunch of turnovers Saturday. “Two second-half goals doesn’t say enough about out defense. Our goalie played unbelievable today; Ryan Bordiere’s a stone wall back there.”
Sixth-seeded Hand (14-5), ranked 10th in the GameTimeCT Top 10 Poll, will host seventh-seeded Masuk (12-5) in the semifinals on Wednesday night at 6 at Madison’s Surf Club.
Both third-seeded Barlow’s zone and Hand’s tenacious physicality made offense tough to come by Saturday. Temperatures in the high 80s seemed to get to some players, too, and so did some of the hits.
“They were aggressive, a little more than I thought they’d be, and we had some key players who couldn’t go back in the game. That hurt us badly,” said Barlow coach John Distler, whose team finished 13-5. “When we’re running our offense, running our man-up, we have certain guys who know the plays and then other guys who kinda know the plays. That’s on me, because we didn’t have enough players that know the plays.”
The Falcons had built a 4-1 lead in the second quarter with three goals within two minutes. Hand hit a post right after forcing Barlow goalie Charlie Falowski to make a good stop.
“We’ve been down before this season. We just kept playing our game,” Hand coach John Orlando said. “ We knew eventually we had to push transition, because they played one heck of a zone against us today.”
It worked in the third, in which Hand outshot the Falcons 14-1. Kevin Sandor’s goal, dodging right and shooting back left, with 65 seconds left in the quarter gave Hand its first lead, 5-4, since 1-0.
Sandor blocked a shot in the final seconds, too, to help preserve the one-goal win.
“It was a one-goal game. We had to hold them, do whatever we can,” Gagliardi said. “You saw guys laying out. It’s just a whatever-it-takes mentality with this group.”
Sandor had tried to play goalie earlier: With Bordiere caught upfield on a clearing attempt, Sandor was flagged for trying to fill in in the crease. It probably wasn’t a bad penalty, even though Barlow scored on the ensuing man-up situation to make it 7-5.
An unnecessary-roughness foul with just over a minute left allowed Drew Filanowski to set up Tyler Larkin a second time with 50 seconds left. But they couldn’t tie it again.
“The kids played great. It’s the best game we played all year,” Distler said. “They went out playing hard. We got beat by the better team.”
In a normal year, Barlow might’ve played several out-of-conference games to prepare for a day like Saturday. Coming off the pandemic, the SWC stayed exclusively in-conference until the state tournament.
“We showed that we could play with the big boys,” Distler said.
Hand moves on, though, one step closer to a chance at its first state championship, reaching the semifinals for the sixth time in the past seven tournaments.
“We feel we deserve to be here,” Gagliardi said. “We planned to be here the whole way, and we’re going for a state championship.”