DARIEN -- One of the foundations of success for the Darien girls lacrosse team is its ability to learn from previous games. Both wins and losses alike.
Darien played four games against top New York schools this season, honing their skills against some of the best teams in the nation, including a home loss to Farmingdale on Saturday. Darien also remembered last month's close win over Staples, and was determined to do better in Friday's FCIAC quarterfinal rematch.
Darien drew on all of those experiences Friday, and the result was a 20-9 win the Blue Wave hope is the first step towards their 11th FCIAC title.
"When we played them in the regular season, we were working some stuff out," Blue Wave coach Lisa Lindley said. "We are playing more cohesively and we're playing better now."
Darien raised its record to 12-5 (11-2 against Connecticut teams) and will play at top-seeded New Canaan (17-0) Monday in the FCIAC semifinals. Staples dropped to 13-4 and begins its Class L title quest May 31.
The Blue Wave never trailed and took the lead for good when Taylor Hardison (four goals, two assists) dodged a Wrecker defender and scored with 20:04 remaining in the first half to make it 2-1. Hardison's tally began a 7-0 run, and she had three goals during the surge. Her centering pass also set up Emily Stein's goal, which made it 4-1 with 16:35 left.
"We had a lot of teamwork, everyone passed and was selfless," Hardison said. "We had trouble shooting in previous games, and we've been working on it and it paid off."
Hardison capped the rally when she circled the net and tucked the ball past Wreckers goalie Kirsten Flicker. Darien scored five on free possessions and added a few more on isolation plays.
"They crowded the 8-meter box a little bit and we were able to fake them out and draw shooting space calls," Hardison said.
Staples started a mini-rally with three straight goals. Maeve Flaherty gave the Wreckers possession through her play in the face-off circle and finished the game with five draw controls.
Ali Crofts broke Darien's 7-0 run when she shot it past Blue Wave goalie Caylee Waters off a centering pass from Jessie Ambrose. Crofts scored the first of three Staples goals. Ambrose made it 8-3 after receiving Remy Nolan's centering pass, and Paige Murray ran in and scored after Flaherty controlled the draw.
The score was 9-5 at the half, but the Blue Wave made sure it wasn't going to be a close game when Dillon Schoen (three goals, two assists, two draw controls, one ground ball) scored only 17 seconds into the second half.
"We talked about the importance of getting the draws and scoring first in the second half," Lindley said. "We lost after having two, 5-goal leads during the regular season, and I didn't want it to happen again."
Schoen's tally kicked off an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 17-5 with 11:50 left in the game. Jena Fritts led Darien's offense with five goals and an assist. She also had a draw control and a ground ball.
"I think we played like a team moving through their midfield," Fritts said. "We got it to the attack, which set us up. We tried to do the fast break more than the slow offense, and we got the shots off quickly."
Stein (two goals, three assists, four draw controls, one ground ball), Brynn Gasparino (three goals), Charlett Stevenson (two goals, one assist, one draw control) and Hollis Perticone (one goal) also scored for the Blue Wave.
Waters played well in net and made some saves on free possession shots. Emily Tropsa (two draw controls, one ground ball, one caused turnover), Julia Cobb (one draw control, one caused turnover), Kristen Gilbert (one ground ball) and Eleanor Bennett (two draw controls, two caused turnovers) also contributed for Darien.
"The defense played well and blocked passes," Fritts said. "Caylee played well, and we did a good job sliding on defense."
Although the Blue Wave proved they are the better team, the underdogs from Westport felt they could have done better.
"Darien opened it up in the beginning and we thought we could come back, but Darien always picks it up in the playoffs," Wreckers coach Cathy Schager said. "Their offense operated beautifully. We hope to play a better game in states."
Lindley said, "Staples has some nice athletes. They were frustrated by our defense and had trouble breaking our zone."
DARIEN 20, STAPLES 9
STAPLES................................ 5 4 -- 9
DARIEN................................ 9 11--20
Records: Staples 13-4, Darien 12-5.
Scoring: S--Jessie Ambrose (3g, 1a), Ryan Kirshner (3g), Remy Nolan (1g, 1a), Ali Crofts (1g), Maeve Flaherty (1g). D--Jena Fritts (5g, 1a), Taylor Hardison (4g, 2a), Dillon Schoen (3g, 2a), Brynn Gasparino (3g), Emily Stein (2g, 3a), Charlett Stevenson (2g, 1a), Hollis Perticone (1g). Goalies: S--Kirsten Flicker (5 saves); Emma Boland (2) D--Caylee Waters (7). Shots: S--16; D--27.