WEST HAVEN — The Hand girls soccer players remember that feeling from a year ago, losing to Cheshire in penalty kicks to decide the 2016 Southern Connecticut Conference tournament title.
The collective group was determined to not let that happen again this season. Hand, the top seed, defeated No. 3 Law 3-0 for the title Thursday night at Ken Strong Stadium.
“From the start of last year, we didn’t have the hopes to win,” Hand senior forward Taylor Scully said. “But this summer, we were like, ‘We are going to win SCCs this year.’ This year, we are such a better team, so much more together than last year. Winning this game my senior year, it’s a really great feeling.”
This is Hand’s first league title since 2009. Hand was making its seventh overall appearance.
“Give the kids credit, they were really hungry for this tournament, hungry to finish on top of the SCCs, to bring the championship back to Hand,” Hand coach Dave Dikranian said.
The Tigers (17-1-1) lost their season opener to Guilford at home, then ran off 14 straight victories before Mercy played Hand to a scoreless tie in the regular-season finale.
“We all came together. We weren’t going to let that loss define our season,” Scully said. “That loss pushed us to make us better.”
Not only was this Law’s first appearance in the SCC tournament final, it was also Law’s first appearance in the league tournament. The Lawmen beat Amity, then Sheehan, to reach Thursday’s championship game
“The most important thing was playing like we deserved to be here,” Law coach J.D. Rhode said. “We did the work to get into the tournament. We beat Amity (in the quarterfinals) because we deserved to beat them. We beat Sheehan (in the semifinals) because we deserved to beat them. We didn’t win by luck in those games. They (the players) have to know that they deserved to be in the final tonight. We just got beat by a better team.”
The Tigers slowly began to apply pressure on Law’s defense, then broke the scoreless deadlock with just over 15 minutes left in the first half. Sophie Cohen scored to Law goalkeeper Jillian Hall’s left, the Tigers’ seventh shot of the game.
Law had just one shot in the first half and that came in the early stages.
Kayla Howard scored the second goal for Hand, dribbling down by herself, then scoring to the bottom right corner for the 2-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the half.
Scully put it away with a breakaway goal with 9:38 left.
The Lawmen (13-3-3) started to apply pressure after Hand’s second goal and even tested Hand goalkeeper Morgan Lipford a couple of times.
“The key was to get the ball into open space and we can run our attack,” Rhode said. “But they put so much pressure on us when we received the ball, there wasn’t a whole lot we can do with it. We weren’t able to connect on passes like we normally do.”
Said Dikranian: “We knew they had some fast, athletic forwards up top. We thought we could deny them, keep possession and work the ball to our forwards more. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that.”