By Rich DePreta
DARIEN —In 2013, there were no FCIAC or state titles for the Darien High School boys lacrosse team.
In fact, there were no victories in all of the Blue Wave’s high-profile, made-for-TV contests against out of state national powers either.
So what does all that add up to this 2014 campaign?
A big Blue chip on Darien’s shoulder.
The Blue Wave showed they are a year older, a year wiser and a year tougher Saturday by defeating Niskayuna (N.Y.) High, 8-7, before a pleased home crowd.
“Last year, frankly, was a disappointment,” said Darien senior goalie Phil Huffard.
“We lost in the playoffs. And we lost all our out-of-state games. Niskayuna beat us last year, so we had this game circled on our schedule.”
Darien (2-0) came out fast Saturday, building a 4-0 lead in the opening seven minutes.
However, Niskayuna (4-1) settled in and regrouped to close to 4-2 after one period and forged a 6-6 deadlock at halftime.
In the second half, Niskayuna junior goalie Nick Testa (18 saves) — a first-year varsity starter — and Darien’s Huffard (11 saves) were the stars of the show.
Frustration built among both attacks as good shots were denied at nearly every turn.
“We had great shots. Testa stopped high ones and low ones,” said Darien head coach Jeff Brameier. “What impressed me most was he didn’t panic when down 4-0. My hat is off to him. He really frustrated our guys.”
Darien’s Peter Lindley had the lone tally in the third period, giving the Blue Wave a 7-6 edge.
But Niskayuna’s best attackman, senior Michael D’Amario, answered with 10:19 left for a 7-7 tie.
Darien got the final break when Niskayuna was called for a one-minute crosschecking penalty.
Harry Gillespie scored on the power play with 5:41 to go for 8-7 Darien.
The Blue Wave outshot Niskayuna, 39-26 and kept most of the ball possession since Andrew Pugliese won 15 of 20 faceoffs.
“Pugliese’s faceoff work is a dimension we didn’t have last year,” Brameier said.
“In fact, in our loss to Niskayuna last year, they had the ball the entire third quarter to break that contest open. It’s great to have a guy like Andrew in the faceoff circle.”
There were some tense moments in the final minutes, but Darien was able to run out most of the final 5:41 to secure the important win.
“It’s still early. But this win could springboard us. It gives us energy,” Huffard said. “This year we have a big core of returnees and great senior leadership. We spent a lot of the offseason trying to get details right.”
“We got some respect back. One step forward. Now our goal is to keep going,” Brameier said. “These kids are looking forward to facing every challenge this season. There was no panic when Niskayuna rallied. There is excitement about everything this group accomplishes.”
It was a good showcase for the sport of high school boys lacrosse. And a good measuring stick to help both sides improve.
“Playing against better quality teams like Darien makes you better. We weren’t really tested in our opening four wins,” Niskayuna head coach Mike Vorgang said. “I loved the way Nick Testa stepped up in net. And we answered after Darien hit us early. The kids and I know what we need to work on.”
Darien 8, Niskayuna (N.Y.) 7
NISKAYUNA (N.Y.) 2 4 0 1 — 7
DARIEN 4 2 1 1 —8
Records: Niskayuna (NY) 4-1; Darien 2-0.
Scoring: N — Mike D’Amario 2 goals, 1 assist; Ryan Lawson 3g; Reed Avveduti 1g; Aidan O’Brien 1g, 1a. D — Jack Kniffin 2g, 1a; Harry Gillespie 2g, 1a; John Reed 1g, 1a; Owen Koorbusch 1g; Peter Lindley 1g; Kyle Cornell 1g; Ian Burgoyne 1a. Goalies: N — Nick Testa (18 saves). D — Phil Huffard (11 saves).
Highlights: D — Andrew Pugliese won 15 of 20 faceoffs. Gillespie scores game-winner with man-up with 5:41 to play.