DARIEN -- In a matchup of top-tier FCIAC girls lacrosse programs, it was New Canaan which exited Darien High School with a nail-biting 9-8 victory Wednesday afternoon.
With the score deadlocked at 8-8 and 4:44 remaining, New Canaan's Olivia Hompe received a pass from Lily Citrin and fired a shot into the back of the Darien cage to give her team the advantage. It was Hompe's fifth goal of the contest.
"I don't really remember it," Hompe said with a laugh. "Darien has such strong defenders that whenever you get in the middle you've just kind of got to rip it. We were playing from behind, but I think we were in it the whole game. I don't think there was any point when we really freaked out. We just tried to stay calm and keep our composure."
Hompe's heroics were made possible by New Canaan's refusal to allow its crosstown nemesis to pull away at any point in the game.
"I told them we need to keep answering back, keep being positive and keep hustling," New Canaan coach Kristin Wood said. "The team that kept hustling was going to win the 50-50 balls, which is what we did."
New Canaan, which trailed for the entire contest at that point, fired back by scoring three unanswered goals, the first by Kristine Ryan and the next two by Hompe to even the score at 7-7. But the Rams didn't stop there. With 5:40 remaining, Sarah Mannelly got on the score sheet with New Canaan's fourth straight goal to give the Rams their first lead at 8-7.
With New Canaan leading 9-8 and just over a minute left, Mannelly also came up with a key steal on her team's side of the field, enabling the Rams to run out the clock.
"They played well in the end. We turned the ball over too much and they capitalized, obviously," Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. "(Mannelly) didn't hurt us in too many other places, but she certainly took control at the end of this game, and that's the show of a real competitive athlete. As I said to the girls, we're going to see them again, and we'd rather lose this one than FCIACs."
Just 35 seconds after allowing New Canaan to take the lead, Darien pulled even on a goal by Gilbert, who received a pass from Schoen on the play to tie the game at 8-8.
New Canaan's resiliency against one of the toughest teams in the FCIAC was not lost on Wood.
"They weren't going to give up," Wood said. "These kids have been thinking about that Darien state semifinal game from last year (a Blue Wave win), and they wanted to get back at it."
Schoen opened the scoring just over a minute into the first half, and Darien ran its lead to 2-0 when Gilbert found Emily Stein for a goal. Just over five minutes later, New Canaan broke through on a goal by Citrin to cut the lead to 2-1.
Darien's next goal came courtesy of Gilbert, who received a pass from Jena Fritts. After Hompe cut the lead to 3-2, Fritts found Gilbert again to make the score 4-2.
New Canaan again cut the lead to one goal when Hompe found Isabel Taben. Darien countered with a goal by Stein with 1:54 remaining in the first half, but Hompe shrank the Darien lead to 5-4 with 23 seconds remaining in the first half.
Both goalies came up with several difficult saves, as New Canaan's Liz O'Sullivan stopped five Darien shots and Darien's Caylee Waters turned away 14 New Canaan shots.
NEW CANAAN 9, DARIEN 8
NEW CANAAN......................... 4 5--9
DARIEN..................................... 5 3--8
Records: New Canaan 7-0 (5-0 FCIAC), Darien 4-2 (3-1 FCIAC).
Scoring: NC--Olivia Hompe (5g, 2a), Lily Citrin (1g, 1a), Isabel Taben (1g), Kristine Ryan (1g), Sarah Mannelly (1g). D--Kristen Gilbert (4g, 1a), Emily Stein (2g), Dillon Schoen (2g, 1a), Jena Fritts (3a). Goalies: NC--Liz O'Sullivan (5 saves); D--Caylee Waters (14). Shots: NC--23; D--13.