CHESHIRE >> Given the history between the two squads, Wilton head coach Deirdre Hynes knew a two-goal lead wasn’t safe against Hand. She was right.
On a cold, brisk Tuesday evening at Cheshire, and with a spot in the Class M state final on the line, the Hand girls’ field hockey team put together a gutsy 30-minute second half comeback, but it was an effort a little too late.
Down 2-1 with less than two minutes to play, Hand’s Brenna Hobin fired a shot that went just inches wide right of the cage. The Warriors cleared and the clock ticked down as Wilton sealed the victory and booked a trip to championship game. The second-seeded Warriors (20-2) will face No.1 Lauralton Hall on Saturday at Wethersfield.
“We played hard,” Hand head coach Sue Leckey said. “If we had played a little bit harder earlier, little bit smarter earlier, it would have been a little bit more interesting than it even was. But I think everybody was on the edge on their seat at the end.”
Wilton and Hand, who have a history of knocking one another out of the state tournament the past 10 seasons, put together an impressive 60 minutes.
Wilton took advantage and seized the momentum early, dictating the flow and possessing. The Warriors got on the board first as Kristen Godin made a move and scored with 15:35 left in the first half. Less than four minutes later, Emily Arrix knocked in a tipped ball from teammate Madison Hendry to make it 2-0.
“We weren’t really doing the defending that we needed to do on the sidelines early on,” Leckey said. “Once we got the hang of that it was easy. We needed to do the job defensively to hold down the fort until we could get the flow of the game a little bit and we didn’t do that.”
In a highly defensive battle, the Tigers were able to find their game and challenged Wilton’s goalie, Lizette Roman-Johnston. In the first two state games, Roman-Johnston posted shutouts.
“She’s good, we knew that,” Leckey said of Wilton’s goalie. “We knew we’d have to get a few shots at her, but we also thought if we shot we might be able to get in their heads a little because they’ve played so dominant all season.”
After a few missed opportunities, Hand finally put one away with 9:36 left. Erin Mammele drove down the field and Hobin was near the cage and put the ball away to cut the lead in half.
“They came out on fire,” Hynes said of Hand. “They stepped it up. I thought they grabbed the momentum. And we learned a lesson, we can’t let down. Thank God we had an insurance goal from the first half.”
Hand kept pressing, but Wilton’s defense held strong.
Wilton’s Roman Johnston and Hand’s goalie Mel Rennie each recorded five saves.
“Hand’s a very talented team, well coached, I knew that they’d be coming back in the second half,” Hynes said. “I think our defense has been quite strong all season. They’ve been tested. They really stepped up to the challenge defensively.”
Hand finished the season with an 18-3-1 record.
“It was a great season for us,” Leckey said. “It’s unfortunate that we let an SCC and state title slip away with so much talent.”