DARIEN — We can dispense with all the varied national poll rankings — at least, according to Darien’s Jack Kniffin, for the next five weeks.
On Saturday afternoon there were only two numbers that mattered, 10-7, the margin by which the Blue Wave lacrosse team defeated New Canaan in a battle of the state’s two top teams.
In the hype leading up to the game, there was an array of varied rankings tossed about, a testament to the difficulty ordering teams throughout the country. They look nice and will have some cosmetic significance when the season ends.
But there was too much riding on Saturday’s outcome, and the final score was fitting on a day when Darien (9-0, 6-0 FCIAC) executed a little better, got to loose balls a little faster and played a little more consistently.
“To be honest I think we came in with the same mentality we always do,” said Kniffin. “Darien-New Canaan, it’s always a good game no matter national ranking. We’ve all got good athletes, we’ve all got good coaches. Today the ball just sort of fell our way. I think we out hustled them on the (groundballs).”
The Blue Wave never trailed in the game, playing with a lead after Liam Rischmann scored with five seconds left in the opening quarter. They were ahead by as many as four goals in the second half, and after getting the first of a pair of three-goal advantages, allowed the Rams to get within one just twice, in the third quarter.
“That was crucial, once we got the lead they never got it down to a one-goal lead except early in the second half,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “That was important for sure.”
After the third of Clayton Burt’s four goals brought the Rams (9-1, 5-1) to within 6-5, the Blue Wave answered with three successive scores to seize control.
“I think that’s one thing with this team that is why we are scoring all the goals that we do,” Kniffin said. “When someone scores a goal we come back and put the ball in the back of the net.
Kniffin and Kevin Lindley finished with three goals and one assist apiece, Lindley going Gumby-like with some twisting individual moves to create shots.
Darien’s defense has gone underrated this year, if only because the attack has been putting up numbers at such a prodigious pace. But with New Canaan running its offense, down 9-7, Rock Stewart’s takeaway with 1:42 left secured the win.
“Rock’s the glue to our defense,” Brameier said. “He’s cerebral and he thinks all the time, and he’s directing the defense and he’s putting people in the right position.”
Mark Evanchick and Stewart were assigned to New Canaan’s vaunted middies, with Evanchick spending most of his time on Ryan O’Connell, who accounted for the lone goal put up by the unit.
“We put our two top kids on their two top midfielders and made them uncomfortable,” Brameier said, then adding of Evanchick, “I give Mark credit. It’s a great matchup for us, the best defensive player in the tri-state area if not the country going up against a very good middie.”
Burt stepped up to carry the offense, but the versatility of Darien’s attack created turnovers and an advantage in possession time, which was going to be critical to the outcome.
“They rode us extremely well,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “They forced us to make errors in the clearing game. The defense played well, we got turnovers and then we gave the ball back to them. As much as they talk about their attack scoring goals their attack won the game today riding us.”
Both goaltenders played well, especially early, with Darien’s Ryan Cornell making 12 saves and New Canaan’s Drew Morris stopping 11 shots.
While Ridgefield and Staples may crash the party, a rematch between the two teams is quite possible. That is the Rams’ immediate focus.
Darien gets little time to celebrate: both the Wreckers and Tigers are on the menu this week, with St. Anthony’s in between.
“You want to keep your dreams alive,” Brameier said. “We’re in the playoffs, we know that, but really for this team it’s the dream for perfection. We’re chasing that to see if we can do it. Obviously there’s a lot of weight on their shoulders but they’re game for it.”
Darien has twice gone unbeaten, most recently two years ago. A third time and then those national polls that have been put aside will come to the forefront.
“If we keep playing our game and putting in the work, the end-of-season rankings will be where they should be,” Kniffin said. “We’re not worried about it in season. It will fall into place.”
“We want to be No. 1 everywhere,” he said.