CHESHIRE, Nov. 11 – The persistence of the Hand High field hockey team was too much for Avon in Tuesday night’s Class M semifinals.
The Falcons played with poise and strength but Hand scored two goals in about eight minutes to deny Avon a spot in the state championship game with a 2-1 victory at Cheshire High.
No. 6 Avon (14-3-1) led by a goal at halftime but the No. 2 seeded Tigers outshot the Falcons, 7-3 in the second half and had an 8-5 edge in penalty corners in the second 30 minutes. Hand (19-2-1) had three penalty corners in the last two minutes to kills off the clock and earn a spot in its fifth state championship game.
The Tigers, in search of its first-ever state title in field hockey, will face top-seeded and defending champion Wilton in the championship game.
Avon was looking for its first berth in the finals since 1998 when they played in the Class S championship game. The Falcons were eliminated in the semifinals for the third consecutive season and for the sixth time in the last eight years.
“You come to the semifinals, you have to bring your ‘A’ game and the girls brought their ‘A’ game,” Avon coach Terri Ziemnicki said. “That is what you hope for. Am I disappointed? Yes, because (the season) is over and they’re an awesome group. This is a team that really, really developed and improved throughout the course of the whole season.”
Avon controlled large sections of the first half. They were beating Hand to the ball and moving it efficiently. The Falcons took a 1-0 lead with 17:41 remaining in the first half when Karina Bucci blasted in her fourth goal of the season from about 12 yards away. Rachel Moore had the assist.
Shelly George, Bucci and Emily Stross had some nice carries toward the Hand net for the Falcons. George came close on a few scoring opportunities but the Falcons couldn’t add to the lead.
“In the first half, we were playing very defensively,” Hand senior Hannah Leckey said. “They put us on our heels. So at halftime, we talked about playing offensively and attacking at them.”
Avon defenders Katherine Stoll, Megan Foley and Rebecca Bonini played well throughout the game breaking up numerous Hand drives and passing plays. Falcon goalie Natalie Sawicki made nine saves including some outstanding stops at point blank range.
Avon still had the lead when Hand’s Kacey McCarthy drove to the net and fired a shot into Sawicki’s pads. The rebound popped right back to McCarthy for another shot that Sawicki stopped with 22:30 remaining in the game.
Hand finally broke through when Samantha Pavano scored on a scorching line drive that snuck inside the right post with 19:54 remaining to tie the game at 1-1. Avon responded with three consecutive penalty corners but couldn’t get a clean shot on goal.
Hand took the lead for good with 11:37 remaining in the game. On a penalty corner, Leckey passed the ball to teammate Erin Mammele, who passed it back to Leckey in the circle. She got one shot off on Sawicki and the rebound bounced off her pads right back to Leckey. This time, she snuck it by Sawicki for the 2-1 lead.
“I was really focused on the ball and getting it into the goal,” Leckey said. “I knew if I got that one in, we would probably hold them.”
“We played great,” Ziemnicki said. “We had it. We had opportunities. We had corners and we had penalty corners. They have some people who can hit the ball hard and into the net.”
Hand 2, Avon 1
Avon (14-3-1) 1 0 — 1
Hand (19-2-1) 0 2 — 2
Goals: Hannah Leckey (H), Samantha Pavano (H); Karina Bucci (A); Assists: Rachel Moore (A); Saves: Natalie Sawicki (A) 9, Melanine Rennie (H) 7; Shots: Hand 11-8; Penalty corners: Hand, 11-7