How sweet it is.
With a 66-64 win at Danbury last Tuesday, the Darien boys basketball team (8-7, 6-7 FCIAC) punched its ticket to the Class L state tournament for the first time in 24 years. Playing for a program that has had its fair share of disappointing seasons, this year's Blue Wave squad was justifiably proud.
"We are lost for words right now. It is an unbelievable feeling," said Darien co-captain Matt Staubi, who put away a team-high 29 points.
"This is a big one for this program," declared Blue Wave coach Kyle Marian. "I am tremendously proud of these seniors and everybody that's been involved in the program. I just can't say enough about just how much work it's taken to get to this point. I said give me four years to see where we're at, and I like where we are at right now. We will enjoy this one for tonight."
Of course, still nothing came easy for Darien. While the Blue Wave did boast a lead over the middle quarters, they were forced to hold off a feisty Danbury squad (6-9, 4-9 FCIAC) from stealing victory away in the final frame.
"It shouldn't have been that close, but it is what it is," Marian said. "We had a little lapse there towards the end, but we were able to match their intensity and grit it out."
Led by senior guard C.J. White, Danbury outscored Darien 17-13 in the first quarter, propelled by 12 White points. He finished with a game-high 37.
"White's a good player, and we couldn't contain him for most of the game," said Blue Wave co-captain Bobby Fitzpatrick. "Danbury really came to play tonight."
Over the final eight minutes of the half, though, the planets seemed to align for Darien. Driving layups, midrange jumpers, and deep threes all fell through the basket in a 21-point second quarter effort that gave the Blue Wave a 34-27 lead at halftime.
Darien's shooting didn't cool down after the intermission. Furthermore, senior Chima Azuonwu dominated the boards on both ends, en route to picking up 18 points for the game. The Blue Wave led by as many as 16 in the middle stages of the third quarter.
Then, Danbury turned on the gas.
Just prior to entering the fourth quarter, White hit two three-pointers to spark a slow and steady comeback. By the end of the frame, the Hatters cut the margin to 53-42.
Down the stretch, made free throws and a greater defensive intensity continued to key the Danbury run.
Under 40 seconds to play, Darien clung desperately to a 61-58 lead and retreated back on defense. As the Hatters' furious rally appeared ready to tie the game, the Blue Wave defense didn't surrender a basket and snared a key rebound. Darien sophomore Hudson Hamill hit a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining, and the game was finally put on ice.
"We battled back and made it interesting," said Danbury coach Casey Bock. "In the second and third quarters, we got ourselves in a hole, and unfortunately we weren't able to bring ourselves all the way back."
Colltively, Darien shot an impressive 18-22 from the free throw line, while Danbury went 12-20.
As for the less travelled path now ahead for the Blue Wave, Staubi had only one thing to say.
"Keep winning games, keep working hard, and staying hungry."
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