DARIEN -- In the final third of the season and currently on the outside of the FCIAC girls playoff picture looking in, the clash between Staples and Darien at Darien High School on Monday afternoon was on the verge of being a "must win" for both squads. A late goal in both halves paved the way for an all-important 2-0 Wreckers victory.
Darien dominated play for the first 38 minutes, but ultimately had nothing to show for it, despite outshooting Staples 8-1 to that point.
Suddenly, Staples had the chance it was looking for when it earned a free kick deep in Darien territory. On the kick, Gea Mitas sent her shot at the Darien net, where it was denied by Darien goalie Phoebe Taylor, but Amelia Heisler was there for the rebound to give the Wreckers a 1-0 lead with just 1:45 left in the half.
"We had a free kick from outside the box. It was a great kick and the goalie tipped it off and I kind of just hit it in with my stomach," Heisler said. "I think it definitely pushed us onward to keep the lead and just to keep going."
Staples' coach Heather Driscoll indicated that her team's ability to withstand Darien's early offensive pressure benefitted her team in the long run, particularly when it was able to play with a lead.
"(The late goal) was huge. We came out a little bit flat and to have that right at the end of the half gave us a little bit of a boost," Driscoll said. "I think we were able to relax a little bit, and we were able to stop panicking. Once they started to feel more comfortable, they settled in and started connecting."
Less than eight minutes into second half action, Staples nearly doubled its lead, but a shot smacked off the crossbar following a scramble in front of the Darien net.
The Blue Wave's best chance to pull even occurred on a fast break when Kelly Karczewski sent a centering pass to Vanessa Budd, but Staples goalie Alison Thomson came out of her net to smother Budd's shot, deflecting it out of play for a Darien corner kick. Thomson earned the shutout by stopping eight Blue Wave shots.
With 54 seconds remaining in the contest, Staples' Lauren Garcia wrapped things up with a strong shot into the top-left corner of the Darien net for the two-goal advantage.
"That seems the story of our season. We dominate, and then they get one chance and they take it. It's frustrating," Darien coach Leigh Parsons said. "You can dominate the games as much as you want, but if you don't score, this is what happens. It was more 50-50 in the second half, and we kind of won the first half. It's tough."
Each team has only four regular season games remaining, and they are both well aware that it will take a strong finish -- as well as some help by other contending teams -- in order to find a way into the FCIAC and state tournaments.
"Every game is a really big game for us now," Heisler said. "We're definitely playing as if it's going to be our last, and we really need each win."
"Every game became a playoff game beginning with this game," Parsons said. "We have four games left. It's time to dig within and see what we're made of."
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STAPLES 2, DARIEN 0
STAPLES................ 1 1--2
DARIEN..... 0 0--0
Records: Staples (3-5-4); Darien (5-6-1).
Goals: S--Amelia Heisler, Lauren Garcia. Assists: S--Gea Mitas. Goalies: S--Alison Thomson (8 saves); D--Phoebe Taylor (4). Shots: S--8; D--12.