Boys Lacrosse

Darien Overcomes Slow Start To Topple Ridgefield, Reach Third Straight State Final

Darien goaltender Ryan Cornell makes one of his five saves in a 10-6 Class L semifinal win over Ridgefield. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Darien goaltender Ryan Cornell makes one of his nine saves in a 10-6 Class L semifinal win over Ridgefield. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — The Darien boys lacrosse team still gets nervous before big games.

Mark Evanchick, who along with his teammates have been showcased in a few of them, offered up what might have been the lone revelation following Wednesday’s 10-6 Class L semifinal win over Ridgefield that earned the Blue Wave their 10th trip to a state final in 12 years, on the precipice of a three-peat and four titles in five seasons.

“Yeah, we do,” Evanchick said in an expressive tone on the Fairfield University turf after a reporter admitted surprise when the reigning state Player of the Year attributed a slow start to a slight case of the heebie–jeebies. “We’re like everyone else. We get pregame jitters. You look at this awesome stadium, great team, under the lights, how can you not?”

After falling behind the Tigers, 2-0, in the first 3 1/2 minutes, Peter Lindley’s transition goal from Rock Stewart ignited an 8-2 run for the top-seeded Blue Wave (22-0).

“It’s 48 minutes. Nothing’s ever won in the first two minutes of the game,” said Jeff Brameier, who reminded that his team’s 5-0 start during the teams’ regular-season meeting, an 11-5 decision, was cut at one point to 5-4. “Things are going to go right or wrong. You have to weather those little bursts and have some bursts of your own.”

Jack Kniffin provided the fireworks for Darien, scoring five times — on assists from four different players. All but one of Darien’s goals were assisted.

“Just shows the depth of our team on our passing quality,” Kniffin said. “Our gameplan was to find the shooters and the windows. I kind of just posted up and my teammates did a great job finding me.”

Hudson Hamill and Colin Minicus scored two goals apiece. Minicus added two assists — his high feed to Kniffin in front that tied the score at 2-2 a goal-of-the-year candidate. Jack Book added two assists.

“Today we were a little bit anxious I think to get going and we settled down and got that fastbreak goal, which really got us kick-started a little bit,” Kniffin said.

Drew Fowler, Greg Gatto and Mark Galione each scored twice for the Tigers.

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Ridgefield (16-5) went through a span of 18:11 scoring just one goal after its early lead, as the Blue Wave defense, led by Evanchick, deftly handled the work that goes unheralded due to the demonstrative nature of the offense. Peter Dearth, the Tigers’ star attack, was kept off the scoreboard and limited to three shots.

“We went with matchups that we thought were best,” Brameier said. “They are doing a lot to get him open. It’s a credit to the team defense but also Mark is very good at getting around, through over and under picks. He’s strong enough that a guy like Dearth is not going to blow him off the ball when he’s trying to bull dodge.”

Evanchick has shut down the opposition’s top threat with such regularity that a case can be made the level of his play is almost taken for granted.

“I kind of take the same approach, look at a player, at their physical ability,” Evanchick said. “Dearth’s a really big kid, he’s fast and he’s strong and has an excellent shot, so I know if I really want to get a good read on him I have to body him up when he comes up top and try to get a good push. It’s really a team defense on a guy like that. If you don’t have help you’re on an island.”

Darien’s Hudson Hamill tries to get by Ridgefield’s William Carpenter during Wednesday's game. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Darien’s Hudson Hamill tries to get by Ridgefield’s William Carpenter during Wednesday’s game. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

For the first time since 2010, Darien will not have a conference opponent waiting for it in the final. Up next is the winner of Thursday’s game between Fairfield Prep and Simsbury.

“There is such competition in FCIAC and you love playing those teams,” Kniffin said. “You miss playing New Canaan in Class L, but Fairfield Prep and Simsbury are going to pose challenges for us. We are not going to be able to take them lightly because they are not from the FCIAC. They are great teams.”

For Evanchick and the other seniors, part of a class being discussed as perhaps the best athletically in school history, one last chapter awaits.

“Saturday is going to be our last game in blue and white and that’s going to be tough,” Evanchick said. “Bittersweet. One more and it’s the state championship, but you hate to see it end.”