DARIEN — Lisa Lindley could have fibbed. No one would have been the wiser if Lindley, the Darien girls lacrosse coach, had come up with some great explanation for the strategic move she made late in the first half of Tuesday’s game with New Canaan that most impacted the outcome: inserting Katie Cronin to win draws.
Instead, Lindley shrugged her shoulder and said of her decision, “Why not?”
With Cronin ensuring that the Blue Wave dictated possession time in the second half, they scored nine straight goals and turned a precarious 10-9 halftime lead into an assertive 20-10 victory.
Chandler Kirby was the biggest beneficiary of Cronin’s center-of-the-field dominance, scoring a career-high seven goals.
“I think the biggest difference was we started to get the draws and Cronin was huge,” Lindley said. “She changed the game around. Singlehandedly. Even if we were losing the ball around the circle we couldn’t come up with the ground ball at all in the first half. Once she started taking the draws she was controlling it.”
Actually there was more method than luck to Lindley’s decision. Cronin took draws the past two years and had previous job experience. With younger players proving capable of handling the pivotal role, Cronin was freed to work on her attacking skills this spring.
Still, Cronin had to shake off some cobwebs. She said she has not worked on the specialty in practice and had taken draws twice in two games this season.
“We were cycling through some players so I thought it could become my turn,” Cronin said. “Draws are very important. It controls the game. I’m glad I was able to help the team a little.”
In a battle between the neighboring rivals, the state’s two top-ranked teams, Darien improved to 12-1-1 over all and 8-0 in league play. Laura Murphy scored three goals for the Blue Wave, while Cronin, Kaeleigh Morrill, Anna Stein and Emma Jaques scored twice each.
“At practice we’ve been working on our shots,” Kirby said of her team’s high goal-to-possession percentage. “This is great because we haven’t done that the last couple of games.”
New Canaan (12-2, 8-1) was actually fairly close to matching Darien in maximizing possessions. It just had the ball a lot less as the game went on.
“Possession, it’s important in the game of lacrosse,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. “You’ve got to have the ball and we didn’t have the ball. We didn’t have the ball in the second half, which killed us. Mentally we had a major lapse.”
Kylie Murphy finished with three goals for the Rams. Catherine Granito, Karlie Bucci and Campbell Armstrong had two apiece.
Darien jumped out to a 3-1 lead before Granito bounced in a shot and Bucci scored to tie it. The Blue Wave went back ahead but the Rams tied the game at 5-5 on one of the prettiest goals of the afternoon: Bucci one-timing a brilliant feed from Granito. Kirby scored for Darien before New Canaan answered with three straight goals for its lone lead of the day. That’s when Cronin’s job description was expanded.
“It was nice to be back,” Cronin said.
Darien scored four straight times before Granito converted a breakaway with 21 seconds left in the half to draw the Rams within 10-9.
“We talked about tightening it up, which I think we did, and being more patient on offense and being more aggressive,” Lindley said. “We got into trouble because we weren’t aggressive in the first half.”
During one stretch early in the second half, Darien scored four goals in 2:46 to make the score 15-9 and break the game open. Kirby had three of them.
“We were not in a good place at halftime and that’s when the game changed,” Kirby said. “Winning the draws.”
Asked if this was a statement victory by her team, Lindley said, “I’m sure we’re going to see them again, it’s not going to be that big a gap and it will be competitive.”
Woods agreed. Asked what message she had for her players after the game, Woods said, “It’s just one game. We’ve got a lot of games ahead.”