GUILFORD — Cole McArdle pays attention and it certainly paid off for the Hand boys’ soccer team Saturday night.
The junior defender scored the lone goal of the game with just 19 minutes, 25 seconds remaining to play as the Tigers blanked archrival Guilford 1-0 at Kavanaugh Field.
With the win, Hand clinched the Southern Connecticut Conference Hammonasset Division crown. The Tigers improved to 6-0 in the division and 9-3-2 overall.
Hand had controlled the ball for much of the contest, but couldn’t convert any of its chances.
Finally, less than a minute after McArdle was told by his coaches to push forward and force Guilford to stretch its defense, he was wide open for a shot from about 30 yards out on the right side in front of the Indians’ bench. McArdle right-footed a blast that hooked past Guilford goalkeeper Nate Wilson into the lower-left corner of the net.
“The ball came up to the top. I beat one kid and shot,” McArdle said. “I was just taking a shot and hoped it went in. I hit it hard and low for the corner.”
Hand coach Stan Latkowski said, “What Guilford did is they played nine guys behind the ball and six in the middle of the field. We weren’t getting numbers up front to support our strikers and they had two in front of them and two in back of them. They took us out of our game, but we showed some character to get one.”
Prior to McArdle’s goal, Guilford had the best two chances of the night. Noah Elmeleki banged a shot off the middle of the crossbar midway through the first half. With just 1:40 remaining in the first half, Hand goalkeeper Nicholas Nelson made a stellar save when he dove to stop Wyatt Vilaseca’s shot from right in front.
“We had those two chances in the first half,” said Guilford coach Joe Maher, whose team outshot Hand 11-10. “We could have been up 1-0 at halftime, but their keeper made an outstanding save he might not make again.”
Hand center-midfielder Brian Jackson was sidelined for most of the game with a possible hip flexor injury.
“We had a difficult time keeping the ball at times without him,” McArdle said.
Guilford fell to 4-2 in the Hammonasset and 8-4-2 overall.
“We figured win 10 games with this group we’d be happy,” Maher said. “Right now, we’re on pace to do that.”