NORWALK — The Darien boys lacrosse team found itself in a holding pattern for much of the first quarter during tonight’s FCIAC Tournament semifinal game against Wilton.
The Warriors controlled time of possession and their goaltender, Andrew Calabrese, made a couple of big saves.
But when you are the No. 1 team in the country, as the Blue Wave are ranked in one poll, anything less than dominance is assessed as a glass half-empty rather than full. Darien still held a 3-1 lead because of the play of its outstanding defense.
And once Darien started faring better on draw controls and got strong play from the wings, offensive artistry soon followed. The Blue Wave had an 8-2 advantage by halftime, scored five times in the first 6:14 of the second half and rolled to a convincing 17-3 win to put them one victory away from a fourth straight conference title.
“First, thanks to Ryan and the defense they shut them down and kept us in the game in the beginning,” said Darien’s Kevin Lindley, referring to goaltender Ryan Cornell. “Then luckily we opened the floodgates and once it started happening they were done for, and that’s a testament to how much we work in practice and how focused we are during the games.”
Logan McGovern finished with 5 goals and 2 assists for the Blue Wave (18-0). Lindley added 4 goals and 2 assists, while Matt Meyjes and Brian Minicus each scored three times.
Standing between Darien and the championship, for the second time in three years, is Ridgefield. The Tigers scored the final three goals to defeat Greenwich in the first game, 10-7.
Darien coach Jeff Brameier said the measured start was part chess match, part emotion.
“It’s playoff time and both teams were a little jumpy and jittery, and the ball was going everywhere,” Brameier said. “It was just more a matter of settling down and getting into a flow and figuring out what they’re doing, they changed their defense a little bit.”
Wilton (13-5), the No. 5 seed, which defeated New Canaan in the first round, was within 3-2 after a goal by Brian Calabrese to start the second half. By the time it scored again there was a running clock late in the fourth quarter.
“You just have to be patient,” Lindley said. “At first you could see we were getting a little edged off because we kept going and going and going. Once we got our first couple of goals we were totally fine.”
One of the most underrated components of the Darien teams during this run is the way success and being targeted by opponents further fuels rather than stymies desire.
“It’s why these kids work hard,” Brameier said. “They like to rise up. Everyone chases us and we don’t want anyone catching us. We are chasing something special ourselves; we have to make sure we keep on our goal and take it one game at a time.”
Twenty-four hours after their school’s girls lacrosse team won a semifinal opener to earn a chance to play Darien in the final, the Tigers followed suit, though they again needed their rally caps after falling behind 5-3 early in the second half against second-seeded Greenwich (12-6).
“We’ve been a second-half team all year so we just kept on our game and things started bouncing our way and we came out on top,” said Drew Fowler, who scored the Tigers’ final goals, the latter after the Cardinals pulled their goaltender. “I should have had three in the beginning. I was missing the cage early and luckily in the end I put them in when it matters.”
Fowler is a senior on a team dominated with juniors and sophomores — and that is now on a seven-game winning streak since a 10-3 loss to Darien.
“Day one we didn’t talk about winning an FCIAC championship or a state championship,” Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey said. “We had one goal and that was to get better every day. That was it. All that I asked of them is every time they step on the field get a little better, and I think they completed that mission.”
Reid Kagan scored 3 goals for the third-seeded Tigers (15-3). Greg Gatto and Wes Carpenter each added a pair.
Both defenses dominated a methodical first half that ended with the Cardinals leading, 4-3. Goaltender Dan Parson stopped 12 shots for Ridgefield.
“The defense was great today,” Colsey said. “Once we figure out our matchups and where our strengths and weaknesses are, that’s just what we’ve done all year. Unfortunately it takes us a little time to get it right but once we get it right we play pretty good lockdown defense.”
Jack Feda, a dominant sophomore, finished with 5 goals for Greenwich, including one on a spectacular muscle move at the end of the first half that broke a 3-3 tie. Cardinals goaltender Andrew Triscari made 12 saves.
Fowler, the Ridgefield quarterback during football season, now finds himself in a familiar position: having to play a heavily favored Blue Wave team for a title. Darien won the schools’ meeting in the Class LL final.
“It’s a good challenge,” Fowler said. “They are the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. It’s a good test. Hopefully we will come out on top and get a championship.”