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The Hand boys’ soccer team defeated Fairfield Prep by a 4-2 score in the SCC Tournament championship game at West Haven High School on Nov. 2. The win gave the Tigers their first SCC crown since 2010. (Photo by Susan Lambert/The Source)
The Hand boys’ soccer squad had battled Fairfield Prep to a pair of ties during the 2017 regular season. However, when the teams met up for a third time in the SCC Tournament final, Hand not only grabbed the rubber match, but also a big piece of hardware in the form of a conference title.
No. 3 seed Hand faced 4th-seeded Fairfield Prep in the championship game of the SCC Tournament at West Haven High School on Nov. 2. It was the Tigers’ first conference final appearance since they lost to Fairfield Prep on penalty kicks in 2014. In the latest edition of this championship clash, it was Hand that emerged triumphant by doubling up the Jesuits 4-2 to secure their second SCC Tournament crown and first since 2010.
“This has been a very unique year for us. We ended our regular season with a couple more losses than we wanted, but we knew we would play our best soccer by the postseason,” said senior captain Owen McShane, an All-SCC First Team honoree. “This was a big win for our team, and we have been through so much. We had to come together as one to beat such a strong Prep team. Our team has a lot of character and strengths, and I’m glad to be on this team.”
Junior forward Lee Wildermann scored two goals for the Tigers against Prep, while junior midfielder Trey Doktorski and freshman midfielder Scott Testori netted the other goals. Wildermann, an All-SCC Second Team selection, was named the SCC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player by netting six goals in the draw. Hand and Prep were tied 2-2 at halftime before the Tigers struck for a pair of goals in the latter half. Senior netminder Tom Hobin stopped four shots for Hand, which outshot the Jesuits, 8-6.
“This title means a lot to the team. Considering in the past years, we have struggled a little when it came to winning SCCs, so breaking the losing streak was awesome,” said Wildermann. “The victory also boosted our team morale a lot. With states coming up, I think that having won the SCC, we are more fired up than ever.”
The Jesuits (12-3-4) scored the game’s first goal about 10 minutes into the contest. With around 13 minutes left before halftime, Doktorski evened the game at 1, after which Wildermann notched the first of his two scores four minutes later to give Hand a 2-1 advantage. Prep came back with a goal to tie the game with 1:15 remaining in the period.
The Tigers wasted little time scoring their final two goals of the night as they netted a pair during the first eight minutes of the second half. Wildermann capitalized on a rebound attempt, and then Testori made it 4-2, which stood up as the final margin of victory behind a stout Tigers’ defense.
“We lost the last two games of the regular season, and it was tough period of time for them, and we played OK then, but we didn’t connect on opportunities, and the boys were frustrated,” said interim Head Coach Anthony Mancini, Sr. “When that was over, I told them that the regular season is over and we start our second season, and that we use it as a time to regroup and play our best soccer. They needed something positive to happen, and this seemed to ignite the boys. It showed emotion in them and brought us to life. Against Prep, we played hard and settled in once we got the lead, and we got more defensive and were able to hold on.”
Earlier, in the semifinal round on Oct. 30, Hand defeated No. 2 seed and defending SCC Tournament champion Shelton by a 4-1 final. Wildermann was the star of the game by netting a hat trick for Hand. He opened the scoring to put the Tigers up 1-0, and then Liam Akers scored the second goal for a 2-0 advantage. Wildermann followed with his second goal that was assisted by Jason Wallach and, although Shelton came back with a goal to make it 3-1, Wildermann finished off his three-goal night with another one just before halftime.
“We played well [in a 1-0 quarterfinal win against Hamden], and it helped make them believe, and then we played one of our best halves this year against Shelton in the first,” Coach Mancini said. “We have a senior group led by [captains McShane, Will Akers, John Ruggiero], and they had a state title on their résumés, but not an SCC title, so I asked them why not add it?”
The Tigers are the No. 10 seed in the Class L State Tournament and will open their state title defense against No. 23 Lyman Hall on Monday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. Coach Mancini said that things are really starting to jell right now for the Tigers, who are firing on all cylinders entering states.
“We are coming together pretty well, but we will take it one game at a time. If we play the way we are capable of, we can beat anyone,” Mancini said. “They believe in themselves, and the kids are having fun again.”
“I know I speak for the whole team when I say that Coach Mancini deserves a shout-out for going above and beyond the call. He’s a huge part of our success,” added McShane. “We aren’t finished yet. The main goal is and always has been to repeat as state champs.”