SHELTON -- First, Darien got mad. Then, the Blue Wave got even.

After being stunned by Ludlowe in the opening set, Darien regrouped and used the passion, poise and precision that has led them to 16 CIAC championships and roared past the Falcons over the final three sets to advance into their 17th Class LL final, winning 23-25, 25-16, 25-13 and 25-16 Thursday night at the Shelton Intermediate School.

Darien, 24-0 in Connecticut (24-2 overall) will face Cheshire on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Glastonbury for the Class LL crown.

The last three games were a clinic of power volleyball by the Blue Wave, who raced out to solid leads, thanks to some impressive service games and then used its passing, blocking and spiking to eliminate the Falcons and end their season at 20-4.

"We realized that this could be our last game to play and we didn't want to go down and we didn't want to go down passively, so we just figured, `screw it' and we gave it our all," said Darien senior captain Claire Naughton. "We were aggressive and we went after the ball and we talked to each other and our talking really picked up and we always play better when we talk better and we came together and did what they needed to do."

For Ludlowe, however, it was another lesson in not having the mental toughness needed to defeat a championship-caliber team. The Falcons had it in spades in the opening game but lost it badly over the final three.

"I'm not surprised, you expect that from good teams like Darien. You can never be on your heels and that's what happened to us," Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. "Our passing when down the tubes and they had excellent serves, so we just couldn't recover after that. They were impeccable with their play. You just can't have all those mistakes."

It was a lack of serving that killed Ludlowe in a straight-set regular season loss (just 16 service points) back in September and a straight set loss in the FCIAC championship game (27 service points) two weeks ago. In the Class LL semis, Ludlowe managed just 23 service winners in the four games.

"I attribute almost all of it to the mental game," Skelton said. "As soon as you lose your confidence in the serve-receive position, it's almost impossible to get it back. That's what went wrong."

It was serving that rallied the Blue Wave, who scored 15 service points in Game 2, 17 service points in Game 3 and 13 service points in Game 4.

"I think we all knew if we kept playing like that we weren't going to win the game but we've worked too hard for this, so we were all, `let's go.' " said Darien senior captain Isabelle Taylor, who had 28 kills for the Blue Wave. "It was all in-between the ears for us at the beginning. They have great servers, great hitters, but we just changed our mindset."

Sadly, for Ludlowe, they lost their mindset.

"I'm always disappointed when you don't have a team that shows up and is confident and showing their `A' game," Shelton said. "It is disappointing as a coach. Looking at the big picture, we've accomplished so much this year. We have to focus on the positives. Ninety-five percent of the season we were `on' and tonight we didn't have that. Taking nothing away from Darien, they were flawless those last three games and we didn't rise to the occasion."

Credit Darien, who did.

"I think that we're so focused right now," Taylor said. "We have our eyes on the prize and I think we've been working so hard, we want to go all the way. It's a great feeling to be going back to the finals."

celsberry@ctpost.com; @elsctpost