FAIRFIELD — It seemed much longer than 25 days since the Darien boys lacrosse team was last forced to summon its will, facing a 5-2 halftime deficit to Greenwich in the second to last game of the regular season on a stormy day.
The Blue Wave came back in the second half and then plowed through the postseason, treating talented opponents like small road bumps.
So when they fell behind, 3-1, in the first quarter of tonight’s Class L semifinal against Glastonbury, posturing as if it was ready to shock the state, if not the country, the Blue Wave were again tasked to calmly recalibrate.
“You know it’s rare to be down like that, but we kind of believe in what we’re doing and we trust each other,” said Riley Stewart, one of Darien’s many senior leaders. “We deep down believed we were the better team and with enough time we would come out on top. Trust in our system and not getting down.”
By halftime the Blue Wave had a 7-5 lead and in the second half the defense took over, allowing just two goals until the final 30 seconds and finishing with a 15-9 win that was at least more interesting than anticipated.
“Their goalie was hot, we were probably shooting right at him, typical of the pressure of the game and they got out to a lead,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “The response was good. That’s what I liked. On the offensive side it was like, guys, you’re getting shots, they’re going to go, it’s only a matter of time. The defensive side it was all right, they are running a lot of similar stuff that we do, with the weaves and that kind of stuff, you just have to play like you play against us in practice.”
Led by 5 goals and 1 assist from Kevin Lindley, and a 12-save effort in goal by Ryan Cornell, the Blue Wave improved to 19-0, a win away from a fourth straight state title and 11th in 13 years. And if you go by one poll, the No. 1 ranking in the country. The last obstacle is Cheshire, which held on in a frantic final minute for a 15-14 win over Wilton.
Brian Minicus, in one of his best games in a very strong spring, scored two of his four goals in the opening quarter as the Blue Wave settled after the early deficit.
“Being a part of this program, you don’t ever panic when you’re down,” Stewart said. “We’re chasing that championship and we know we’re going to come out on top.”
Glastonbury, the fifth seed, came in with two potent scorers, and in the chess match Brameier put Arden Cohen on Michael Hawkins and Quinn Fay on Ronan Jacoby. The pair combined for five goals but was fairly well contained.
“The transition again probably triggered some of it, but great defense,” said Brameier of the turnaround. “We started slowing them down and between Jacoby and Hakwins, they couldn’t get unleashed enough, and if you cut off the two-headed monster they don’t have much to go to after that. They’re a solid team. We had to find Minicus and he came through today; he’s been electric all season.”
It might seem late to wonder whether being challenged was a necessary portal, but Stewart and Brameier agreed it was a welcome reprieve from a steady diet of blowouts.
“It’s definitely nice to be tested once in a while, to be in a close game like this early on is good not to get ahead of ourselves and concentrate on the championship too much, and know we’re beatable,” Stewart said.
Added Brameier, “What we haven’t had since the Greenwich game, we really haven’t had a game where, hey, we have to play and, hey, they’re doing things well. So this is good. I liked my chances with these guys.”
An expected final with the Warriors was disrupted by seventh-seeded Cheshire, which alternated taking leads and withstanding comebacks. The Rams led early, 3-0, and later had two more three-goal margins and their biggest lead, 11-7, at the start of the third quarter.
Wilton (15-6) responded with five straight goals, including three 14 seconds apart in what was an impressive flurry. But otherwise the Warriors had difficulty sustaining traction, were hurt by the loss of faceoff specialist Chris Sweeney to a possible broken collarbone and some costly late turnovers. Cheshire goaltender Peter Brown stopped a game-tying attempt by Kieran McGovern with 48 seconds left.
Wilton coach John Wiseman had a contentious time with the officials throughout the game and drew a misconduct penalty after the game.
“They came to play, hats off to them,” Wiseman said. “I wish we had a set of officials that came. They sucked. It was absolutely ludicrous, but I don’t want to take anything away from Cheshire. We built some momentum and they fought. They fought and you had to give them credit.”
Connor Drake finished with four goals for Wilton. Joe Murtha, Brian Calabrese and McGovern added two apiece. Tim Hoynes scored six goals for Cheshire.