NORWALK — If you are going to upset the Darien boys lacrosse team, best to do it at the end of the season, when second chances are no longer available to the state’s current premier program.
Ridgefield got it right a year ago, stunning the Blue Wave on the final day of the season and ending its 76-game winning streak, the third-most-ever nationally.
Timing — and draws — are everything. Wilton took down the Blue Wave two and a half weeks ago in the FCIAC semifinals. Darien was denied a fifth straight conference title.
The teams ended up on opposite sides of the bracket for the Class L Tournament and navigated their respective courses to this afternoon’s championship game.
In a dominating performance that started with a goal 43 seconds in, the Blue Wave never allowed the Warriors to gain any confidence or enjoy momentum. The result was a 13-3 win that ensured the program did not go a third straight tournament without a title.
“We talk about it all the time. Every team wants to be part of history and part of the tradition,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “For any team to not have some form of hardware, it doesn’t feel right. We’re fortunate. They’re fortunate to be in this program because every year we’re competing for this. It all started June 10 last year with the loss.”
Hudson Pokorny finished with three goals and two assists to pace an offense that forged an 8-0 lead late in the first half against a heralded Wilton defense backed by goaltender Andrew Calabrese.
— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) June 8, 2019
“I think the difference is we scored early,” Brameier said. “Maybe get them on their heels a little bit. Calabrese is one of the best goalies in the state and when he gets hot you can be in trouble. We got him thinking, putting him in different spots. Hudson Pokorny had a big game today. A senior, our leading scorer, he really stepped up.”
Michael Minicus and Henri Pfeifle each scored twice for Darien. Nine different players had goals.
The defense was stifling. Wilton scored twice in a span of 27 seconds before halftime and then just once more.
“I think that first loss definitely fueled us,” said Tyler Strub, the anchor to Wilton’s defense. “We looked at their offense and we understood how to play them. We needed to slide and we also needed to get low because they’re a very physical team. They have athletic specimens and we needed to combat that.”
The Warriors were 1-7 at one point and then became one of the state’s hottest teams. They went 12-2 the rest of the way, but both losses came in championship games.
Wilton couldn’t even enjoy its one fleeting moment of hope. Goals by Andrew Luciano and Niko Kouvaris cut the deficit to 8-2 with 1:16 left in the half.
With time running out, Calabrese hoped to get lucky and threw a long pass toward the Darien goal. Sam Cragin intercepted it, took two steps and fired in a shot from 55 yards away before Calabrese could get back in position.
“That was definitely a heads-up play by Cragin,” said Strub. “One of the smartest plays of the game. We like to play physical. If you score on us we’re just going to get harder on you.”
Added Brameier, “Anytime you score going into the half it’s a big one. They had just chipped it from 8-0 to 8-2 and we answered with an end-of-the-half slam dunk.”
The Blue Wave (17-4) were impassioned, looking to put the only remaining stamp on the season that was available. It was fueled not just to win but to command.
“We always try to dominate every opponent so this was just another great win,” Pokorny said. “We saw them on the other side. We knew they could get pretty far so we were hoping we could get a finals rematch. We looked at what they did defensively to stop us and we changed it all up. The last time we played them in the semis we left a lot of goals on the doorstep and they were able to gain some momentum and put some in the back of the net. We felt if we could get on them early we could take them out of their game.”
Both teams set difficult non-league schedules, the reason Darien (5th) and Wilton (19th) were seeded way lower than their talent level.
“I think the kids know losses during the regular season, they’re tough losses, nobody likes to lose,” Brameier said. “But they’re preparing you for this moment. We know that if you end the season in a pile, the summer is great, the rest of the year is great.”
The Blue Wave got the pile — the wall of players celebrating in front of the goal at the final buzzer — and its world seemed properly aligned for the first time in a year.
“We have 17 seniors who nobody showed any respect for,” Brameier said. “There’s no stars necessarily but they all stepped up today on this stage.”