Blue Wave clinches playoff berth in blowout at Stamford
STAMFORD -- How can one goal in a 6-0 win mean so much?
It can if it comes from the foot of the senior goalie.
Darien's Charlotte Phillips got her second shot of the season to score the only of her career Tuesday afternoon against Stamford. With a 4-0 lead and a penalty kick awarded to the Blue Wave, Darien head coach Jonathan Bradley called upon his goalie to trot up the field and take her shot at Stamford's Ellie Beltran.
There was a look of, "Who? Me?" before Phillips gleefully ran up the field. She went low and to the right, easily scoring and giving her team a five-goal advantage with 2:46 left in the game.
"I've never scored and that was like my dream by the end of the season," Phillips said. "He (Bradley) had tried putting me in an earlier game to try and score, and I didn't, so I wasn't expecting it. It was nice of him to do that because he knew how much I wanted to."
Said Bradley: "She had never scored a goal in her life, and she wants to play forward, so I figured the trade was I'd let her take the penalty kick."
The big news from the blistering Blue Wave win is the W giving the girls a guaranteed spot in the FCIAC playoffs, which begin Saturday afternoon. Darien improved to 8-2-4 and got to 28 points, putting them in the 5-seed slot as of Wednesday morning.
"A lot will depend on today," Bradley said after the game about his approach to the Staples game, which is Thursday afternoon. "If we're already in FCIACs, we're rotating a lot of players because we have a big game on Saturday."
And the playoff format is one that's unforgiving to these teams, which are playing with less rest between games than any other fall sport in the conference.
"I think the way the league is structured is going to make it difficult on anyone," Bradley said. "This week, you're going to play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and potentially Monday. It's too many games. I hope the other teams helped me out today."
They did, but Darien wouldn't have needed the help anyway. So now, it's on to postseason play. If the Blue Wave defeats Staples, however, they could leapfrog St. Joseph for the 4-seed in the playoffs.
It's been an interesting ride for Darien this season. The team came out of the gates hard and winning in strong style -- and then there was a dip. Phillips explained why.
"Starting off this season I think we felt we needed to prove to everyone we were good," she said. "Once we had that established, I think, subconsciously, we felt we didn't need to prove that anymore, that we just were just good without having to, maybe, to put in our best effort on the field. And we learned that's not true. Definitely, that every game we have to go as hard as we can."
Prior to last Friday's win against Norwalk, the team had lost four of five and was facing a distinct possibly of missing the FCIACs.
"It was the lack of energy," Phillips said. "There was a lack of urgency."
That problem surfaced Tuesday, too, as Darien was scoreless at the half against a three-win Stamford squad.
"Their sweeper (Lauren Shapiro), she had a good game," Bradley said. "Eventually we broke them down, but they played a good first half and we were relatively flat."
Bradley's team uncorked five goals in the final 14 minutes to definitively take home the win. Phebe Wong scored first, at the 37:27 mark, after a mid-air collision with Beltran opened up an easy goal for Darien. Despite Stamford's coaches' pleas, no penalty was called.
"I think that drive, that internal fire, that was what we were lacking in the middle [of the season] and hopefully we can get a spark for the playoffs," Phillips said.
Ellie Bullitt put the second goal of the game in off a corner kick from the foot of Eleanor Palmer -- and the rout was on. India Tibbetts, Georgie Highton, Phillips and Marieka Bravo all found the twine on relatively easy shots as the second half wore down.
"It's hard on Stamford because we can use so many players," Bradley said. "Inevitably, once the first goal went in, space opened up on the field and we created more chances. But in the first half, it was fairly even."
Darien had never had six players score six goals this season or last. Remarkably, Highton, the team's biggest offensive threat, wasn't a dominant presence despite going against an inferior team That's a good sign for this team, according to the head coach.
"FCIACs and states are going to be hard. We can't just rely on Georgie to score all the goals," Bradley said.
The team may not have to. And now Bradley knows he's got one more option on offense, should it need it, standing on the opposite side of the field in the penalty box. Phillips and her teammates are bringing the early-season mentality back for the postseason that's ahead.