NORWALK — Jeff Brameier insisted late Saturday afternoon that his personal nadir ended up as the turning point for the Darien boys lacrosse team’s season.
Brameier has continually taken the blame for a 12-11 overtime loss to Greenwich in the penultimate game of the regular season, when the Cardinals overcame a two-goal deficit in the closing seconds.
Of course no one person — player or coach — can take the blame for that kind of collapse, but it helps the overall narrative to the final chapter of the Blue Wave’s season, a 6-5 win over Ridgefield for the Class L championship. It was the team’s second straight state title — and second straight year it had to defeat an opponent for a third time to do it — and ninth in the last 11 years. After the move up from Class M, it is the program’s first crown at the L level.
The late-season slump ended a 34-game winning streak, but proved a small price to pay for two more additions to the trophy case.
“I was a terrible coach, we lost that two-goal lead to Greenwich and it was probably the best thing that happened to our team,” Brameier said, drops from what is now his annual rite of spring — the Gatorade bucket bath — falling from his shirt as he spoke. “It was a crucial part of us having the hunger and making some changes. It wasn’t dramatic but I thought it had a huge impact in the FCIAC final and state championship.”
Brameier said one of the strategic moves was not having his best defensive player score what proved to be the decisive goal, on one of the prettiest plays of the season. That one is already in the playbook.
A little buildup: Darien had been held scoreless for 20 minutes and 15 seconds, a 2-1 lead now a 4-2 deficit, the battle of strategies in Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey’s advantage. Jack Kniffin ended the dry spell, taking a pass in front from Colin Minicus and beating goaltender Brendan Winne before he could react with a quick shot.
Andrew Pugliese won two successive faceoffs, Mincius scored on the first, set up Christian Trifone on the second and the Blue Wave had three goals in 1:43 and a 5-4 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Mark Evanchick, in another battle with Tigers star Simon Mathias, and the rest of the Darien defense had not allowed the game to get away.
“The game fell into Roy’s style of play and they had the opportunity to win,” Brameier said. “Fortunately we made a few big plays, like Evanchick and Rock Stewart and Daniel Traver shutting down their big weapons.”
Midway through the final period, after Darien goaltender Ryan Cornell made a save, no one followed Evanchick — the best defender in these parts until someone else can prove otherwise — and he received a long clearing pass and kept going. Fifteen yards from the goal Evanchick decided to shoot and unleashed a fireball that was shocking in so many ways, not the least of which was its accuracy. Winne, a very good goaltender, barely reacted.
“When that happened I was like, wow, I can’t believe that just happened,” said Darien co-captain Ian Burgoyne. “We make fun of Mark a little bit in practice for not being able to shoot, but he did it when it counted. That’s the kind of athlete he is, he’s always stepping up in big moments.”
The goal was just Evanchick’s second of the season and the first came in a 20-0 win over Trinity Catholic in the third game of the season.
“Luckily nobody picked me up and Ryan got it to me,” Evanchick said. “I do not practice (shooting) often and the minute I let it go I thought I would regret it. I thought it was going to be a save and I got lucky.”
Mathias answered for the Tigers with 5:23 left, but that was it on a day when goals were a high commodity. There were extremes of sloppy turnovers and the game within a game, watching Evanchick and Mathias go at it.
“The defense hung tough all year and we’ve faced some of the best offenses in the country,” Evanchick said. “Simon Mathias is the best attack I’ve ever guarded. That offense is spectacular. To hold them to that is a testament to the way this defense plays.”
The rest was Darien being Darien, most notably at halftime when it was 4-2 at had not scored in over a quarter.
“The mood was a little rattled,” Burgoyne said. “I think the senior leadership got everyone together and said we’ve been here before, we’ll battle back.”
How much that nightmare in Greenwich affected what happened Saturday at Brien McMahon can always be debated. The record books say the Blue Wave are 11-1 in state finals.
Some traditions are just enduring.