MADISON — It was no surprise that it came down to the final half-second.
And when Mackenzie Larson made a great save on Branford’s LanLe Crotty at the buzzer, Hand completed a huge second half comeback to edge the Hornets, 13-12, Wednesday night in a battle of two of the Southern Connecticut Conference girls’ lacrosse powers at the Surf Club.
With the victory by Hand (13-2 overall), it sets up a winner-take-all game for the SCC regular season title at Cheshire Thursday afternoon. The game was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. but has been moved up to 5:15 p.m. because of power issues at Cheshire resulting from Tuesday night’s storm.
Branford led most of the way Wednesday night and took an 11-7 lead on four consecutive goals with 18:27 remaining. At that point, Hand coach Kevin Siedlecki called a time out.
“We didn’t do anything different,” Siedlecki said. “I said focus on the big picture. We were four down and a man down with less than 20 minutes to left of lacrosse to play. It had nothing to do with lacrosse, Xs and Os or skill. It had to do with hustle, belief and heart. If we could maintain faith and support each other, we could win that game. If not, we won’t.”
Over the next 18:19, the game changed drastically as Hand was able to take control on both sides of the ball and scored four times to tie it at 11-11. The Tigers held a Branford team that was averaging 13.6 goals per game coming into the contest without a goal.
“Lacrosse rides on the draw and we were dominate in the first half,” Branford coach Jackie Ceccolini said. “Then we ended up not winning a few.”
With 5:16 left Hand got the ball and elected to hang on to the ball.
“I wanted to stall and take the last shot,” Siedlecki said. “I didn’t want to give them an opportunity to get the ball back with any time left on the clock.”
However, with 3:25 left, Branford was called for face-guarding. Riley Kokoruda, who scored five goals, got a direct shot from 10 yards out and she beat Branford goalie Daly Hynes to give Hand the lead, 12-11.
The Hornets had a chance to tie it, but after Sabrina Torcellini’s shot was saved by MacKenzie Larson with 1:14 left, Hand took control of the ball. The Hornets double and triple teamed the ball, but Glenna-Kate Gies found a wide-open Dory Howard, who was wide open in front of the net and she scored to make it 13-11 with 23.2 seconds to go.
Branford won the draw and Sophie Spencer scored her fourth goal of the game with 7.9 seconds left to close the Hornets within one, 13-12.
It seemed as if there wasn’t enough time for Branford to get a shot off, but Hand was whistled with a foul just before the buzzer and the referees put a half-second on the clock. Crotty whipped a low shot from 15 feet away at Larson at the buzzer, but she knocked it away as time ran out.
“That should be a high percentage shot,” Siedlecki said. “If that goes in, which it should, the goalie feels bad, but that what a great moment for Kenzie.”
Branford suffered its second loss in the SCC and fell to 13-2 overall.
“This is always a strong matchup and either team can win,” Ceccolini said. “It’s a dogfight and we’ll probably see them again.”
HAND 13, BRANFORD 12
BRANFORD 7 5 – 12
HAND 7 6 – 13
Records: Hand, 13-2. Branford, 13-2. Goals: Hand – Taylor Scully 3, Glenna-Kate Gies 2, Riley Kokoruda 5, Dory Howard, Regan Larsen and Emma Sullivan. Branford – Sophie Spencer 4, Lanle Crotty 2, Erin O’Brien 2, Brianna Shaw, Haley Maercklein, Autumn McHenry and Sabrina Torcellini. Assists: Hand – Scully 3, Sullivan. Branford – McHenry. Shots: Hand 27, Branford 20. Saves: Hand – MacKenzie Larson, 7. Branford – Daly Hynes 6.