By Rich DePreta
DARIEN — That’s 21 dominoes down, two to go for a state title and a perfect season.
The Darien High School boys lacrosse team showed why it’s ranked No. 1 in the state of Connecticut and No. 4 in America as the Blue Wave rolled to a 19-5 Class M quarterfinal round victory over No. 8 Notre Dame West Haven Saturday.
Darien’s final home game of this wonderful campaign was a tour de force at both ends of the field that left the Blue Wave at a spotless 21-0 overall.
The victory also means No. 1 Darien will battle No. 13 Daniel Hand in Wednesday’s Class M semifinals at 5 p.m. at Fairfield Ludlowe High. Hand topped No. 12 Guilford, 16-4 Saturday. No. 7 Barlow will meet No. 3 New Canaan in the other M semifinal.
“We’re 21-0 and people ask ’What could be wrong?’ But all of us won’t be happy with 21-1,” Darien’s veteran head coach Jeff Brameier said. “The pressure is still there. We’re expected to win. That’s why we have to continue to improve every day. We have to keep striving to get better.”
Notre Dame-West Haven (11-7) had no answer for the Blue Wave. Andrew Pugliese won five of the opening six faceoffs and Darien’s offense built a 7-0 lead after one quarter and a 14-2 edge at halftime.
“Our program is still relatively new. Darien is the best team in the state,” said Notre Dame West Haven head coach A.J. Alessi. “That’s where we want to get to. It’s something to strive for. And now our kids understand better what we have to do to get to that level.”
Jack Kniffin and Peter Lindley each scored four goals while Pugliese and Colin Minicus each contributed two goals and two assists for Darien, which substituted liberally during running time (10 or more goal lead) in the second half.
“On videotape, you know Darien is good. When you see them live, you see how well they play together,” Alessi said. “Their communication on defense and offense is outstanding.”
It has been the little things and a collective growth that has made this season so special for Darien.
“The group was young last year. They were uncomfortable together,” Brameier said. “Now (senior goalie) Phil (Huffard, four saves in three quarters) directs the defense like an NFL quarterback. We have lockdown defenders this year. This entire team is unselfish. They are past ’Me! Me! Me!’ They are past worrying about their stats. Past worrying about college recruitors. They’ve bought in that good things come from working together. This group is all about TEAM.”
There isn’t absolute satisfaction in the present. There is preparation for the future.
Two steps from a state title and a perfect record.
“You get extra days to prepare in the state tournament. But there’s never enough preparation,” Brameier said. “I was watching film of New Canaan before today’s game. What do the opponents do? How can you make them uncomfortable? I have to make the kids understand they still aren’t the best they can be yet. But I do know if we play our A game, we are tough to beat.”
Darien 19, Notre Dame West Haven 5
ND-WEST HAVEN0 2 1 2 — 5
DARIEN7 7 2 3 —19
Records: ND West Haven 11-7; Darien 21-0.
Scoring: ND WH — Andrew Stofko 2 goals; Ed Moran 1 assist; Joe Palmieri 2g, 1a; Alex Hassen 1a; Dylan Penna 1g. D — Jack Kniffin 4g, 1a; Peter Lindley 4g, 1a; Andrew Pugliese 2g, 2a; Ian Burgoyne 1g; Kyle Cornell 1g, 1a; Hudson Hamill 1a; Harry Gillespie 1g; John Reed 1a; Colin Minicus 2g, 2a; Will Hamernick 1a; Tim Lochtefeld 1a; Christian Trifone 2g; Brendan Seiler 1g; Will Ahl 1g; Riley Stewart 1a. Goalies: NDWH — John Brunetti 10 saves. D — Phil Huffard (3 quarters) (4 saves); Phil Rech (4th quarter) 1 save.
Highlights: D — No. 1 seed Darien will face No. 13 seed Daniel Hand in Wednesday’s Class M semifinals at 5 p.m. at Ludlowe High School. New Canaan meets Barlow in the other Class M semifinal.