Opponents who’ve gone up against the Lauralton Hall soccer team in the past couple of years have learned one thing — never leave sophomore forward Caroline Monahan even partially unprotected in your end of the field.

Monahan got enough clearance against a Daniel Hand defender on Monday afternoon and scored what proved to be the winning goal as the Crusaders defeated the Tigers from Madison, 2-1, on the grass field at Lauralton Hall.

Right after taking a pass from Gigi Mecca, Monahan maneuvered her way around a defender before lofting a perfectly-placed kick over the head of Hand keeper Amy Boswell in the 75th minute.

Hand had tied the game when Annie Hesse’s header off a corner kick from Sophia Dickman beat Crusaders’ keeper Colleen McCarthy at the 12:15 mark.

Both McCarthy and Mecca are sophomores on a team which will take a 14-3-1 record into Wednesday night’s SCC championship game versus Shelton High at East Haven High School.

It was McCarthy’s 15th goal of the season. She has 10 assists after also leading the team in scoring her freshman year.

“She’s an amazing athlete,” said Lauralton Hall coach Nicole Andreesen. “Not too many sophomores can handle the pressure the way she does. She’s a pleasure to watch play.”

Hand coach David Dikranian also had praise for Monahan.

“She’s a young player who’s going to be around for a long time,” he said. “You’ll see here playing right through high school and into college.”

Dikranian admitted that his team had a defensive lapse, something you can’t have when going up against a player like Monahan. “We were playing well in the second half,” he said. “Our intensity was high and so was our possession time. But what we failed to do was handle them in transition, that’s where that team is at its best.”

The Crusaders also pushed the ball well after a slow start and took a 1-0 lead when senior Catherine Dobensky finished off a through pass from Christy Russo.

The Crusaders held a 4-2 edge in shots during the first 40 minutes. “During the first 12 minutes we struggled with possession,” Andreesen said. “The ball seemed to be bouncing all over the place. Today was just a very good collective team effort. These kids just never give up.”

Even though she was marked Monahan found space before launching her shot into the upper portion of the net. “I really don’t think too much when I’m out there,” she said. “I’m never really that aware of other players around me.”

Now the Crusaders, who finished with a 9-5 margin in shots, are heading for the final. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” Monahan said. “The other day the team was in the gym and we saw the 2000 South-West Conference championship banner. It’s been a long time. We’re looking forward to Wednesday night.”

The loss left Hand with a 9-5-4 record.