NORWALK -- Darien hasn't been considered the underdog often in the FCIAC girls lacrosse scene, so the Blue Wave liked the feeling of entering the league tournament with, as junior Taylor Hardison said, "nothing to lose."
One-goal regular season losses to former undefeateds Greenwich and New Canaan contributed to Darien being the No. 4 seed in the FCIAC Tournament, but anyone who has followed the Blue Wave knows they're a team that peaks at exactly the right time.
The Blue Wave showed their penchant for playing their best when it matters the most again on Friday.
Four days after avenging their loss to New Canaan, Darien turned the tables on Greenwich, defeating the third-seeded Cardinals, 17-14, for the FCIAC championship at Brien McMahon High School.
MVP Jena Fritts, a junior attack, and sophomore midfielder Emily Stein each recorded four goals and one assist for the Blue Wave, who captured their first FCIAC title since 2009 and league-best 11th overall.
"This feels great because we all worked so hard throughout the season and learned from our mistakes," Fritts said.
Junior attack Sophie Waine registered four goals and three assists, sophomore attack Carolyn Paletta tallied four times and senior attack Claire Feeney had two goals and two assists for Greenwich (16-3).
"We just couldn't pull ahead today, we always fought back, but just not enough to overcome our deficit," said GHS coach Caitlin Keane, whose Cardinals edged the Blue Wave, 13-12, last month. "Darien played a great game and they came out after us after that last game."
"It was an honor to get this far in the FCIAC Tournament with the most competitive teams in the state," GHS midfielder Shannon Colligan said.
Indeed, Darien enjoyed flying under the radar going into the league tournament.
"We took advantage of being the underdog," said Hardison (two goals, three assists). "We knew we had nothing to lose and the other teams had everything to lose. To come back as the underdog and prove we're the best feels great."
Leading 9-8 at halftime, the Blue Wave (14-5) received goals from Stein, Hardison and Fritts to open a 12-8 advantage with 20:14 remaining. Consecutive goals from Paletta cut Darien's edge to 12-10, but the Blue Wave won the ensuing draw and sophomore Dillon Schoen (three goals) quickly scored, making it 13-10. Fritts tallied off the next draw and junior Kristen Gilbert scored in transition, giving the Blue Wave a five-goal cushion with 17:15 left.
"We always talk about setting the tone on the draws in the second half and once we started to win them we kept rattling off goals and caught them on their heels," Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. "What makes us so dangerous is that we have so many weapons and at any given time anyone can be dangerous.
A 4-0 surge brought the Cardinals to within 15-14. Junior Emma Christie converted a free position shot, Waine tallied and senior Tori Dunster scored.
"I'm very proud of our team, we put in the effort until the last minute," Dunster said. "It was great the way we came back."
Junior Caylee Waters (eight saves) made a key save with seven minutes remaining and the Blue Wave promptly went into their effective stall. Goals from Hardison and Schoen sealed the victory.
"The second half, we just started to bury our shots and pulled it together," Fritts said.
Senior Britt Gasparino (two goals) scored the game's first goal, going top shelf on GHS senior goalie Hannah Jeffrey (nine saves). Goals from Feeney and Waine put the Cards ahead 2-1, but Darien scored four straight to seize a 5-2 advantage. The Blue Wave focused much of their attention on stopping Feeney.
"They face guarded me later on in the game, so I tried my hardest to get the other girls open," Feeney said. "We used some picks, we just didn't have enough time to capitalize."
Paletta, Feeney and Waine each tallied, tying the score at 6-6 and forcing Lindley to call a timeout. A visibly frustrated Lindley had some strong words for Waters during the stoppage.
The Blue Wave scored three of the game's next five goals to enter halftime with a one-goal edge. Up next for both teams is their respective state tournaments. Darien will look to successfully defend its Class M title, while Greenwich hopes to claim its second straight Class L crown.
"There's no stopping us in states," Dunster said. "We're going to come out firing and hopefully get the title again."
DARIEN 17, GREENWICH 14
GREENWICH 8 6 -- 14
DARIEN 9 8 -- 17
Records: Greenwich 16-3; Darien 14-5
Scoring: G -- Sophie Waine (4 g, 3 a); Carolyn Paletta (4 g, 1 a); Claire Feeney (2 g, 2 a); Tori Dunster (2 g); Emma Christie (1 g); Emily Johnson (1 g); Shannon Colligan (1 a); D -- Jena Fritts (4 g, 1 a); Emily Stein (4 g, 1 a); Dillon Schoen (3 g); Brynn Gasparino (2 g, 2 a); Kristen Gilbert (1 g, 1 a); Taylor Hardison (2 g, 2 a). Goalies: G -- Hannah Jeffrey (9 saves); D -- Caylee Waters (8 saves).