Tie tough to swallow for the playoff-hopeful

STAMFORD -- With their season approaching its end and a playoff berth all but on the line, a visit to one-win Trinity Catholic on Tuesday was one the Blue Wave was counting on for a win.

Darien High's School's boys soccer team was less than a half-minute away from walking off the field victorious.

That was until a late Trinity goal resulted in the game ending in a 1-1 deadlock.

The Blue Wave (2-5-5) needs three points in their last three games (something the team can accomplish with a win and a tie, three ties, or two wins). But it isn't expected to be easy. Darien's remaining games are against New Canaan, Trumbull and Westhill.

"All tough games," senior captain Rupert Hansford said.

"As our coach said, we've made it extremely tough for ourselves now," said Hansford, referring to the comments of assistant coach Rich Mokarski following this tough-to-swallow tie for the Wave. Mokarski, and the other coaches also told the players that they have plenty of confidence in them getting the job done.

So what will it take to qualify?

"Hard work, a little luck on our side, honestly. We've just got to play hard whistle to whistle, not give up and have trust in each other," senior captain Ben Burke said.

There certainly was plenty of hard work put forth by the Wave players on Tuesday. They kept pushing the ball off to the sides and sending crosses into the 18-yard penalty box, occasionally mixing up the attack strategy with runs up the middle. Shots went wide, high, or into the opposing keeper's arms time and time again.

Patrick Ryan was denied on multiple chances. John Holmgren sent a pass from the left wing into space just a few yards in front of the goal, and Hansford got his head on the ball, but sent it just over the top.

Brennan Branca was robbed on a diving keeper save. Everything Darien threw Trinity's way was denied or just missed the goal.

The tie was more like loss for Darien and a win for Trinity given the lopsided play. The Blue Wave dominated control of the game and had numerous scoring chances go by the boards even when the ball got behind the keeper.

Holmgren took a tough-angle shot from the right wing which glanced off the crossbar, and Holmgren later hit the post. Hansford also clanked one off the post in the second half.

Darien finally broke through when Alex McGuire crossed the ball from the right side, Geoffrey Hubbard deflected it and Holmgren finished the play off with a goal with just 17:04 left in the game.

The Wave did not sit on the lead. The forwards continuously attacked deep in Trinity's end of the field but couldn't get another ball past Trinity keeper Jason Peraza, despite 14 shots and four corner kicks when all was said and done.

Many of these scoring threats came late in the second half, with Darien trying desperately to put the game out of reach.

"We had like 20,000 missed opportunities," said McGuire, another of the captains, alluding to the fact that it was more scoring chances than can be counted on one hand. "We really picked it up at the end."

"It was really frustrating. Tough when you can't finish," captain John Walsh said. "We have to be more creative, I think, in getting to the goal. We took a lot of shots, tested the goalkeeper a lot."

An inability to add to the lead proved costly when the hosts scored with just 22 seconds remaining. Paulo De La Rosa booted the ball into the 18-yard box from just inside midfield. Donovan McIntosh raced after the ball and headed over Darien goalkeeper Graham Hotchkiss and into the net just before the two players collided.

Hotchkiss was dinged up on the play and came out of the game. Goalkeepers Jack Fisher and Hotchkiss split playing time, with Fisher guarding the goal in the first half and Hotchkiss coming up with a couple of key saves to preserve the lead before the goal/collision.

Darien head coach Nicolae Piperea commended his players for putting forth a strong effort, and adjusting to a difficult playing surface. Trinity's field was quite muddy.

Footing wasn't great and the ball took some challenging hops.

"I think they did a great job of playing on a hard [to play on] pitch. You could barely play the ball," he said.

The outcome was frustrating for Darien, not only because the team could have used another point to work toward a playoff spot, but because the opportunities were there.

"We created our chances. We hit the crossbar, the post," Piperea said. "It was a great effort. It was a game we dominated from the beginning to the end. We put the ball in the goal-mouth danger areas so many times. We just couldn't score one more goal and that cost us a point in the end."