In many ways, a down-to-the-wire barnburner between the New Canaan and Darien girls basketball teams was to be expected in Thursday's LaVista Tournament championship game at New Canaan High School. New Canaan and Darien have seemingly picked up where they left off last year, and each team has looked sharp against stiff competition in the early goings of the 2011-12 campaign, but it was the Rams who captured the tournament by holding off the Blue Wave for a 61-58 victory.

Sarah Mannelly, who was named the tournament's MVP, scored a game-high 30 points, but she saved her biggest play of the day with the Rams protecting a 59-58 lead with Darien in possession of the ball and only 10.9 seconds remaining. After Darien inbounded the ball and dished it to Meg Marren, who scored a team-high 29 points, Mannelly swooped in to steal the ball.

Mannelly was fouled with 1.7 seconds left and made both free throws to seal the title for the Rams.

"[Marren] was having a good game, so I figured they would go to one of their big players, so I was kind of anticipating it a little bit, and I was able to get there," Mannelly said. "I think we did really well this tournament. We deserved it and it was a lot of fun. Darien's always a good, fun team to play against."

Mannelly's last-second heroics may not have even been necessary had it not been for a strong Darien rally in the fourth quarter. Having trailed for the entire second and third quarters -- and by as much as nine points -- the Blue Wave finally pulled even on a three-pointer by Emily Stein, which tied the game at 56-56 with three minutes remaining.

"We really wanted to win this tournament. It was a close game and both teams worked really hard, so we don't feel too bad about this loss," Darien's Kate Bushell said. "Now we can be ready for New Canaan in the regular season game. We started making our shots [in the fourth quarter], but they kept making theirs."

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The Rams refused to allow the Wave to take the lead, however, as Mannelly's layup staked her team to a 58-56 lead. After Marren sank a pair of free throws to pull the Wave even again, Mannelly went one-for-two from the line to put the Rams up 59-58, and New Canaan maintained the lead for the rest of the game.

"It's a good way to go into the new year. The kids played hard, fought back and forth and everybody's shot was on. I knew it was going to be a battle," New Canaan coach Kim Palmer said. "Sarah was where she needed to be [on the steal], as usual."

A seesaw first quarter which saw 12 lead changes foreshadowed the nail-biting finish. New Canaan's 19-15 lead at the end of the opening frame represented the largest difference between the two teams to that point.

For New Canaan, Courtney Rogers dropped five 3-pointers for 15 points, and Kelly Armstrong contributed another nine points.

For Darien, Stein totaled 12 points and Bushell added eight before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The win was New Canaan's (5-2) fourth in a row and the Rams will go for five on Tuesday at Trumbull at 7 p.m.

Darien (3-3) will look to climb north of the .500 mark on Tuesday at Westhill at 5:45 p.m.

"It's tough. We can't be too upset about it because we played hard. I've got to give [New Canaan] credit because they made a lot of shots," Darien coach Gary Peterson said.

"We'll see them again; these games are always great no matter what our records look like. I thought we made the game a little harder than we should have because we weren't careful with the ball, but these girls don't quit."

New Canaan 61, Darien 58

DARIEN (3-3)

Meg Marren 11 7-9 29 Emily Stein 4 0-0 12 Kate Bushell 3 0-0 8 Daly Naughton 2 0-1 4 Kelly Karczewski 1 0-0 3 Leslie Yuen 0 2-2 2. Totals: 21 9-12 58.

NEW CANAAN (5-2)

Sarah Mannelly 9 12-13 30 Courtney Rogers 5 0-0 15 Kelly Armstrong 4 1-1 9 Georgia Hunsinger 2 0-0 4 Brianna McEwan 1 0-0 2 Marina Braccio 0 1-2 1. Totals: 21 14-16 61.

DARIEN15 14 12 17--58

NEW CANAAN19 15 12 15--61

3-pointers: D--Stein 4, Bushell 2, Karczewski. NC--Rogers 5.