Hand field hockey's one-goal loss to Cheshire in the SCC final in 2012 stuck with the Tigers and last week they had a chance to exact a little revenge while making history in the process.
Cheshire came into its Sept. 17 matchup with Hand having won 32 straight SCC games, but that all came to a halt with the Tigers' 4-1 victory at home. While both squads stood even at the half, Hand struck with the eventual game-winner three minutes into the second before tacking on another pair with 23:50 and 10:59 to play to lead the way for a confidence-booster early in the season.
"There are no words to describe how good this feels," said senior Brenna Hobin. "The second goal pumped us up a lot; it helped us get through this game. We certainly have more confidence now and feel we can take on any team."
Hobin notched three of Hand's four unassisted goals and the remaining tally belonged to junior Hannah Leckey, who was able to shoot home that pivotal second score from inside the 30-yard line. the Tigers outshot the Rams 19-8.
"We have been working toward this so this feels good right now," said Leckey. "It was really good because we came together as a team and showed we can beat this team. That goal was really good because it got our momentum started and helped us not stop and give into them."
After Hand (5-0) earned the match's first corner six minutes in, junior Erin Mammele missed a near opening tally for the Tigers with a wide shot from the 20-yard mark. Following a Cheshire (2-1) chance, Hand redeemed itself with a 1-0 edge on a rebound shot by Hobin off the goalie's pads.
The Rams didn't back down from initial adversity, though, as they knotted the score with a ball that rolled into the cage on a corner with senior Danielle Bellantonio getting credit for the equalizer. With 10 minutes left before the half, Hand lined up for a corner and connected for what it thought was a 2-1 command, but the score was disallowed.
"They said it was obstruction in front of the goal," said Head Coach Sue Leckey. "One referee couldn't see it so she felt that something might have gone on and consulted with the other referee and made the call. I've rarely seen a goal called back like that at the goal line...I'm glad it didn't end up being a factor."
It would not rattle the Tigers' cage, though, thanks to stops by their defense and junior netminder Mel Rennie (7 saves on 8 Cheshire shots) as both sides went to the break with a goal apiece.
The Rams drove to open the second following a Hand corner, yet Hannah Leckey responded with a shot from the top of the circle at the 26:59 mark that gave her club a 2-1 lead. The home team kept on the offensive pressure with a pair of corner shots prior to nailing in some insurance when Hobin tacked on another one following a pass intercept and strike.
"On that second goal, I thought we were in our groove leading up so I was confident we would put another in," said Coach Leckey. "I just wasn't confident that we would prevent them from putting another in because they are a great team."
It then became Cheshire's chance to try its luck from the corner with one of its own prior to Hand earning a penalty stroke that was no good with 20:25 to go. The Rams tried to capitalize on their break, but they couldn't connect on four corners in a five-minute span.
The Tigers looked for a three-goal edge at the 12:36 juncture of the period, yet it came two minutes afterward when Hobin completed her hat trick for a 4-1 command on a dribble past the keeper. The Hand defense then hunkered down and prevented any chance for a Cheshire rally on its way to the big victory.
"It's exciting because I feel we are getting effort in a lot of places," said Coach Leckey. "You can have all the players you want, but if you don't have effort, you won't turn it into anything. We have some great players and we try to match Cheshire in athleticism, but I think we worked hard enough tonight to put them off their usually good game."
The night before, Hand defeated another SCC contender in Guilford with a 1-0 road victory thanks to a Hobin score on a pass from junior Katie Omdahl, which she received across the cage from Hannah Leckey. Rennie earned a four-save shutout while Hand totaled 11 shots.
"I feel right now that I can call on anyone to do their job and help their teammates, yet we want to keep taking baby steps in a positive direction," said Coach Leckey, whose group would close the week with a 3-0 shutout at Lyman Hall on Sept. 20 and a 2-1 overtime win against Staples the next day. "We don't know how strong the rest of the state will get so we have to keep getting better."