Things were looking bleak for the Hand Tigers Wednesday night. Really bleak.
Wethersfield led 1-0 as the final minutes of the Class L state semifinal were ticking away. Then Wethersfield gets whistled for a foul. Lee Wildermann calmly surveys the situation, bangs home the equalizer with 1 minute, 24 seconds left in regulation. Overtime soon ensues on a very cold night at Naugatuck High.
You know the rest of the story: Hand wins 3-2 in double overtime to reach the L final for the third straight season.
“We hate to lose, we really do, regardless of who the competition is,” Wildermann said afterwards. “(Wethersfield) came at us the entire game, no doubt about that. We fought back just as hard.”
The No. 3 seeded Tigers are one victory away from completing a three-peat in Class L. Standing in the way is No. 17 Maloney. Game time is 3 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High.
“When you look at this team and you see that spirit, that togetherness, you see that fire, sometimes that’s what it takes. Sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you need that character to dig deep and find a way out of nothing sometimes,” Hand coach Greg Cumpstone said.
There’s another boys soccer program on the Shoreline with a repeat opportunity on the agenda. In fact, it’s Hand’s next-door neighbor, Morgan out of the Shoreline Conference, trying to run the table again in Class S.
“It definitely means a lot to get back there. We have all worked hard. It all starts with our practices and workouts. We have worked hard and I feel we definitely deserve to go back.” Morgan’s Zach Tuccitto said following the Huskies’ 3-0 win over Notre Dame-Fairfield in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Standing in the way of its repeat is Old Saybrook, the No. 6 seed. Game time is 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High.
This was Hand’s sixth appearance in a Class L state semifinal over the past seven seasons Wildermann remembers the last loss in the semis for Hand – to Avon in 2015.
“That loss was crushing. Winning sophomore year was ridiculous and then again junior year didn’t seem believable,” Wildermann said. “Going to a state final (this year). A little bit of me said, ‘There’s no way.’ But now we are here and I have no doubt we can win another one.”
Greyson McGeary scored the deciding goal with 1:38 left in the second overtime session for the Tigers.
“(Cumpstone) told us at halftime that it’s bigger than ourselves and everyone has to play for someone,” McGeary said. It’s great for all the seniors to have a chance at number three.”
Morgan coach Ross Demay believed the Huskies had what it took to have a successful season and a chance at a repeat. Much like Cumpstone told his players: care for one another and anything is possible.
“They are very close. They look at each other like a brotherhood. They hold each other up. They care about each other,” Demay said.
This will be the fourth time Morgan and Old Saybrook will meet – and for the second straight season. Last year, Old Saybrook was the regular season champion in the Shoreline Conference.
Yet Morgan upset Old Saybrook on the road in the tournament semifinals. Then two weeks later, beat Saybrook in penalty kicks in the S semifinals en route to the title. Morgan and Saybrook split this season before the Huskies won in the Shoreline semifinals again, this time at home.
So two boys soccer programs, separated by mere miles, attempt to repeat or three-peat, in back-to-back games at Middletown High on Saturday. The stage is now set.