As the Jonathan Law girls soccer soccer season progressed, head coach J.D. Rhode was continuously instilling in his players a feeling of belonging. Rhode has had the program on an almost constant incline since he arrived.

So, even though a 3-0 loss to Madison's Daniel Hand High had to hurt last Thursday night in the Southern Connecticut Conference's championship game at Ken Strong Field in West Haven, Rhode and his players understood how far they'd come.

"I've always tried to instill in them the belief that we deserve to be where we're at in a given time, because we've worked so hard to reach a given level," said Rhode, a former scholastic player in the Shoreline Conference, where he played for Joe Maher at Guilford High.

"We got to the final because we beat a good Amity team (1-0), then we knocked off a good Sheehan team (3-0). Right now, I'm sure that all of these kids aren't too happy about this outcome. But, in a day or two, when it all sinks in, they'll realize what they've accomplished."

Law came into the championship game riding a 13-2-3 record and was the No. 3 seed.

Coach Dave Dikranian’s Tigers were the top seed with a 16-1-1 record.

It was the second straight appearance in the finals for the Tigers, who lost in last year's championship game to Cheshire, 5-4, on penalty kicks after the teams battled to a 1-1 tie.

Hand won outright SCC championships in 1998, 1999 and 2008 and served as a co-champion in 2009 with Cheshire.

Hand advanced to the final with wins over Cheshire (2-0) in the quarterfinals and Shelton (3-2 in overtime) in the semifinals.

Both coaches agreed after the outcome that the game was decided in the midfield, where Hand's approach every game, according to Dikranian, is to deny your opponent an opportunity to serve the ball in.

"We knew that they (Law) had fast, athletic forwards, who, if given the ball, could force lots of pressure on our back-line and our goalie," Dikranian said. "So we overloaded on one side in the mid-field, tried to trap as much as we could, and get them to turn the ball over."

The plan worked almost to perfection.

Hand's first goal, by Sophie Cohen came with 15:14 to play in the opening half.

The Tigers' next two tallies came after counters in the midfield and were scored by sophomore Kayla Howard (10:50 into the second half) and Taylor Scully (with 9:38 to play).

The Tigers offered up 13 shots with Law keeper Jillian Hall making five saves.

Hand's midfield play was reflected in Law's inability to create and get attempts on goal. Law had only three shots, with two of them coming on goal. Morgan Lipford, a junior goalie, made both stops.

Hand had seven corner kicks for the game. Six of them came in the second half. Law didn't have any.

Law opened Class L state tournament play last Tuesday as the No. 5 seed and played host to No. 28 Branford, also of the SCC. Neither team played each other in the regular season.

"What I really like is our mentality," Rhode said. "It's reached the point where we know we can do more than just be in games. As a team, we realize that we can win them. We're constantly building on that theme."

And getting to this year's SCC final for a team which will only lose a handful of players through graduation, was yet another step along the way.

Notebook: Ironically, Dikranian, whose father, Bob, brought national attention to Southern Connecticut State University where he coached in the late 1960s and 1970s, worked in the Milford Youth Program as a coach and trainer as part of the Victory Soccer Program that he and his father run.

"I saw most of their current players when they were eight and nine year-olds," he said. "You have to credit people like Hank Kealey and Rick DiStefano (the current boys coach at Foran) for their work and seeing these kids develop. It didn't surprise me that Law made it to this year's final."