Correspondent

TRUMBULL -- The Darien High School girls' basketball team is proving to the rest of the league that -- if the Blue Wave can get into the FCIAC playoffs -- it has potentially as good a shot as any team to make a run to the title game.

Darien, fighting for its conference playoff lives, once again took one of the FCIAC's best right down to the wire.

This time, the Wave lost hold of a 10-point halftime lead and fell 46-43 to the FCIAC's second best team, St. Joseph, on the road on Tuesday night.

The Wave ended the first half strongly to carry a 28-18 lead into halftime but led by just one point heading into the fourth and couldn't hang on against the one-loss Cadets, who were coming off an ugly game against New Canaan Friday night.

Darien fell to 9-8 (8-7 overall) and St. Joseph improved to 14-1 (12-1) in a game that was the story of two halves.

"You've got to put to of them together," Darien head coach Gary Peterson said. "We gave it back to them in the third quarter. We've got to learn how to bring it home, and we're getting there."

Darien has more than held its own against three of the conference's best teams -- all in a row -- falling to Staples by just three points and also losing to Ridgefield by one. The Cadets are the second-best FCIAC team and lose out on first place only because Ridgefield owns a tiebreaker on them, having won the head-to-head battle. Cadets coach Joe Cavallaro wasn't expecting anything other than a big challenge and a close game with the Wave.

"We've seen them play and we knew they were going to be tough," Cavallaro said.

It looked, from the onset, as if the Cadets would dominate. The home team had control in the rebounding game and built a 5-0 lead before the Wave finally scored 2:36 into the contest on a Leanne Stone jumper off an inbounds pass. That got the ball rolling, so to speak. Darien used an 11-4 run to close out the first quarter with an 11-9 lead.

Darien held the Cadets to just nine more points in the second quarter and surged ahead at halftime, in part because of strong defense, and also because the shots weren't falling for the Cadets.

The Wave was feeling good about things at halftime, but Peterson remained cautiously optimistic.

"I knew we still had our work cut out for us," said the Darien coach, adding that any team that has had as much success as St. Joseph has had this season is bound to make run.

In the third quarter the game turned in favor of the home team.

"We shot the ball better in the second half," Cavallaro said.

Michelle Gorman led the Cadets with 18 points. Jess Jowdy had 11 and Amaia Gritsko added 8 in the win. The Wave was led by Liz Calby's 14 points and eight apiece from Stone and Meg Marren. Kate Bushell added seven and Taylor Wells and Nicole Buch contributed three points apiece.

"Even after they caught us, I still felt like we were the better team," Peterson said. "They made shots, we missed them -- and we turned the ball over."

The Cadets used a full-court press to make things difficult for the Wave. "I thought we did a decent job handling it though," Peterson said.

"They are one of the better teams in the league this year. We think we're one of them also but, sooner or later, you have to beat one of these teams," Peterson said. "I'm ecstatic that we have eight wins but I feel we're better than our record."

Darien won just three games last year and this season the team has not only tripled that win total but is a bounce here or there away from having a dozen wins.

Coming so close against the FCIAC's best does give the Wave plenty of confidence that they can make some noise in the tourney -- if they can qualify. As it stands now, the Wave is on the bubble among teams trying to sneak in.

"It's definitely encouraging. It would have been much better to walk away with one of those. We have to break that slide right now that we're on," Peterson said. "We're playing our best basketball right now. I'm proud of them.

"Without a doubt I really believe we can beat any team we play this year -- especially after the last three," the coach added. "I know we can and the players think we can. I would love to see what happens if we get in."