WEST HAVEN — The top-seeded Hand girls lacrosse team dominated the first half against No. 2 Cheshire in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament final, including draws and ball possession, to take a six-goal lead into halftime.
Despite the one-sided first half, the Tigers had to hold off a furious second-half rally by the Rams. Taylor Scully led the Tigers with four goals and four assists and Mackenzie Larson had 10 saves to lead Hand to a 12-11 win at Ken Strong Stadium on Thursday. The Tigers (16-2) won their 12th SCC title and Larson was named the tournament outstanding player.
“In that first half we came out ready to go,” Hand coach Kevin Siedlecki said. “Taylor put us on her shoulders in that first half. But Emma Sullivan, Riley Kokoruda and everyone stepped up on offense, and on defense we shut down their top scorer Annie Eddy.
“We had a lot of yellow cards in the second half and that took us out of our rhythm a bit. We ended up playing a man down the last 14 or 15 minutes. Cheshire did a great job coming back. But we believe in each other, we help each other and never get concerned when we fall behind or see teams come back on us.”
Hand dominated the draws (8 of 11) and ball possession in the first half to take an 8-2 lead at halftime.
The Rams opened the game with a goal from Mia Pulisciano to take a 1-0 lead with 21 minutes, 38 seconds to go in the first half. Hand responded with an 8-0 run to take control of the game.
Emma Sullivan got the run started with a goal 37 seconds after Pulisciano scored to tie the game at 1. Kokoruda capped off the 8-0 run with a free-position goal with 5:59 left in the first half. Scully had three goals and three assists in the eight-goal run.
“We got in a good groove in the first half,” Scully said. “Our defense was on top of everybody. But the second half was a little scary. Cheshire came out hard and we lost our groove a bit. We stayed focused and relaxed and took advantage of our opportunities.”
Taylor Warburton, Cheshire coach Dan Warburton’s daughter, stopped the bleeding for Cheshire with a goal with 4:51 to go to trim Hand’s lead to 8-2.
Cheshire regrouped at halftime.
“I can’t explain the first half, I would have liked to play better in that first half,” Cheshire coach Dan Warburton said. “It seemed like we were ready to go. We played tentative in that first half and it took us a while to get away from that. We’re a young team but our kids never give up. We’ve done a lot of great things this season. We’ll learn from tonight and use it in the state tournament (CIAC Class L).”
Hand started the second half with Kokoruda giving Hand a 9-2 lead with 19:48 to go.
The Rams, playing more aggressive in the second half, answered with a 5-1 run. Annie Acquavita scored with 9:32 to go to cap the run and cut the Hand lead to 10-7.
Kokoruda scored with 5:59 left in the second half to make it 11-7 Hand. But Cheshire made it interesting with goals from Pulisciano (4:30 left), Acquavita (2:51 to go) and Eddy (2:33 left) to cut the Tigers lead to 11-10. Hand won the next draw and Scully added an insurance goal with 1:31 to go that proved to be the game-winner.
A collision at midfield produced a penalty against Hand and resulted in a penalty shot for Cheshire with 3 seconds left in the game. Kiley Jackson scored for the 12-11 final.
“We’re very pumped up, especially all of us seniors because this is our fourth straight SCC title,” Larson said. “We all got a little crazy in the second half with the yellow cards and being a man down most of the time. Cheshire did a good job coming back and there was some pressure. But my team in front of me helped to take that pressure off.”
Kokoruda ended up with three goals for the Tigers.
Puilsciano led the Rams (15-3) with five goals and Annie Acquavita added three. Sophie Kurtz had 10 saves.
HAND 12, CHESHIRE 11
(at West Haven)
CHESHIRE 2 9—11
HAND 8 4—12
Scoring: Cheshire-Mia Pulisciano 5 goals, Annie Acquavita 3 goals, 1 assist, Taylor Warburton 1 goal, Annie Eddy 1 goal, Kiley Jackson 1 goal; Hand-Taylor Scully 4 goals, 4 assists, Emma Sullivan 3 goals, Riley Kokoruda 3 goals, Dory Howard 1 goal, Caroline White 1 goal. Saves: Cheshire-Sophie Kurtz 10; Hand-Mackenzie Larson 10. Records: Cheshire 15-3; Hand 16-2.