Darien survives late push by New Canaan, advances to lacrosse final
FAIRFIELD -- Darien High School's girls' lacrosse team built an early lead, survived a New Canaan run, and hung on for a 9-7 win in Wednesday's Class M State Tournament semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe High.
Darien improved to 11-6 and New Canaan, the bracket's No. 8 seed, saw its season end at 12-6. Darien sophomore Taylor Hardison led the Wave with three goals and an assist, and teammates Jena Fritts and Brynn Gasparino both scored twice. New Canaan got two goals and an assist from Olivia Hompe, two goals from Elizabeth DeTour and a goal and two assists from Sarah Mannelly.
Darien goaltender Claire Dickson made eight saves, including a couple of stops on in close shots as the Wave preserved a two-goal advantage in the waning minutes. New Canaan goalie Elizabeth O'Sullivan made 17 saves to keep her team in the game as Darien dominated play for long spurts.
The Wave gained control of the ball off 12 of 18 faceoffs, a key factor in the team's possession domination and, ultimately, the win.
"We set the tempo of the game," said Darien Coach Lisa Lindley, alluding to her team's ability to win each of the first handful of draws.
New Canaan started winning faceoffs late in the first half and early in the second, helping the Rams get back into it.
It looked, early on, as if the Wave would overtake the Rams with ease. Darien kept converting possessions into goals to the tune of a 4-0 lead with 9:08 left in the opening half. Hardison scored just 2:15 into regulation, and Dillon Schoen netted a goal only 40 seconds later.
After Fritts scored her first goal, the Rams appeared to get out of trouble by causing a turnover, but what the Blue Wave giveth they taketh away as Schoen intercepted New Canaan's ensuing breakout pass and set up fellow freshman Emily Stein for a 4-0 cushion. The Rams pulled to within 4-2 before a late DHS tally gave the Wave a little more breathing room at 5-2 at the half.
The Rams, following an impassioned halftime speech from coach Kristin Wood who urged her players to step it up and play to their abilities, scored twice in a span of 17 seconds early in the half to make it a nail-biter. Mannelly scored to make it 5-3 just 1:16 into the half and Brianna McEwan found the back of the net on a free position shot moments later to draw her team to within one. Darien responded with the next two tallies, on goals by Fritts and Gasparino, the latter on a free position, and then the teams traded goals before back-to-back New Canaan tallies pulled the Rams to within a goal again, at 8-7 with 5:02 to play.
Hompe put home a perfectly-executed one-timer off a behind-the-net feed from Mannelly to get the Rams back to within one. Darien, however, quickly responded, as Hardison got her hat-trick tally just 36 seconds later.
"We had what it took," Hardison said. "We're looking forward to the state championship."
Wood thought her team's struggles to get to 50-50 balls, both off draws and during other parts of the game, proved costly. Still, she was proud of her team's second-half comeback.
"They came out hard and got a few right at the start of the second half," she said. "I feel for the seniors. They really had a spectacular year and it's a tough way to end the season."
Lindley, meanwhile, was pleased with her players executing what the DHS coaches asked of them, including forcing the Ram players to go to the left -- their weaker shooting side -- winning draws, defending well and sliding and double teaming at the right times. Now, it's on to the title game.
"It's going to be exciting. We weren't there last year, so hopefully we can get it done," Lindley said.