TRUMBULL — After being frustrated in front of the cage for 60 minutes, all they needed was a little more space.
It didn’t take long for No. 7 Daniel Hand to utilize the extra real estate of seven-on-seven field hockey, as Grace Hartmann’s breakaway goal with 4:41 left in the first overtime gave the Tigers a 1-0 win over Bethel. The decisive goal sent Hand to the Class M final, where it will meet Guilford or Branford on Saturday.
Hartmann took a pass from Jacqui Sandor and raced in on the cage, but her first shot was stopped by Bethel goalie Sophie Morris. She corralled the rebound and got a backhand to find the back of the net.
“It felt really good, our team was playing so well,” Said Hartmann. “(The goal) was really nerve-wracking; the goalie had a really nice save on the first one.”
It’s the second final in three years for Hand, which will play for its third title since 2014 at Wethersfield. The Tigers prodded the Bethel goal for most of the game and had a significant edge in penalty corners and shots.
“It feels unbelievable, it can never get old,” said Tigers coach Sue Leckey. “It’s such a nice memory for kids to say they achieved getting there. And now we’ll focus on how we can try and win it.”
Though the Wildcats made few strides up the field compared to Hand, there were several and an upset wasn’t out of the possibility.
“I was worried,” Leckey said. “It’s a hard game, if you can’t put it in the net they could get one easily. It wouldn’t have been too easy because I think we played a good game but I was glad the girls were patient and played until the end.”
As they have for the past several weeks, Bethel defended bravely to keep the game within reach. The Wildcats allowed just one goal — in a 1-0 loss to Weston in the SWC quarterfinals — in their previous seven games prior to Tuesday. Bethel notched a pair of 1-0 wins to reach the semis.
“We just became more defensive-minded,” said Bethel coach Katie Ciskowski. “If we were patient on offense we would be able to poke one through; we just wanted to play good solid defense and wait.”
Grace Hartmann, Hand: Found the all-important goal to avoid the lottery of penalty strokes.
“I’m very proud of how we played. It’s pretty much been the playoffs since four games left in the regular season. We had to win all those games to make the (SWC and state playoffs). It’s been quite the run.” — Bethel coach Katie Ciskowski