FAIRFIELD — Ready, set, start your David vs. Goliath stories. That is what you will be reading for the next three days after Darien and Fairfield Warde advanced to the Class L girls lacrosse final following close wins on Tuesday.
The Blue Wave, the three-time defending champions and nine-time finalists — with seven titles — survived an 8-6 battle with pesky Wilton in the second game of a doubleheader at Fairfield Ludlowe.
In the opener, the Mustangs, who reached the semifinals two years ago, literally held on in the final seconds for an 11-10 victory over Greenwich to reach their maiden appearance.
“This is big, this is real big,” said Warde coach Tom Davis, who has patiently kept his program on an upswing in one of the region’s toughest leagues. “I don’t think there’s anybody in Fairfield County or the state that thought that Fairfield Warde was going to be going to the state championships on Saturday.”
A Darien loss would have been man-bites-dog news, but an equal few likely anticipated a struggle that saw it leading by just 3-1 at halftime and still nursing a two-goal lead in the final minutes.
“The defense I was very happy with, I thought they were outstanding, especially the last stand really was key,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “Offensively we had our looks, we just couldn’t finish today. Bad shooting today. And Page played well.”
Wilton goaltender Paige Brown sparkled in goal, especially in the first half, to keep her team within striking distance.
But the top-seeded Blue Wave (20-1-1) never let Wilton get within a goal and got a four-goal performance out of Susie Ropp.
“Wilton’s a very good team so we expected they were going to come out strong,” Darien defender Daphne Budd said. “The draw was really important for our game. Our defense I thought played well today. We just really came out hard, came out in a pressure defense.”
Lindley was animated at halftime, raising her voice as the team broke a huddle to try and get it refocused as her four-year starters near the chance to go 8 for 8 with league and state titles.
“This is where it counts,” Lindley said. “These kids don’t realize it is either 25 minutes and you leave it on the field or you are walking home. They need to be reminded of that.”
Added Budd, “She gets us fired up and that’s what we need in a coach. It wasn’t the prettiest win but we pulled through and played with a lot of heart.”
Emma Lesko was exceptional with her defensive marking and goaltender Carly Schoudel played one of her best games of the season.
Paisley Eagan scored three times for Wilton, including twice 13 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 7-5 with 4:04 left. But Ropp answered a little less than two minutes later to secure the win.
In the opening game, 7th-seeded Greenwich (14-7) led just once, at 2-1, but stayed close the entire game. The Mustangs’ biggest advantage came at 7-4 early in the second half, but Paige Mautner and Erika Bloes scored for the Cardinals, setting a cycle of No. 6 Warde (14-5-1) holding one- or two-goal leads the final 17 minutes.
Maggie O’Gorman’s goal with 46 seconds remaining made the score 11-10, but the Cardinals were unable to equalize on their final possession.
“We just tried to keep that distance and we did,” Davis said. “The defense came up big, Rebecca (Snitkoff) came up big in goal. We knew it was going to be close, it was a pick-em game, it was one of those games, whoever has the ball last was going to win.”
Courtney Scheetz scored four goals for the Mustangs, while Libby McKenna added three and Olivia Seymour a pair.
“It’s huge step for us,” Scheetz said. “Every year everyone looks at us as an underdog and this year we showed them what Warde was about and took it to everyone.”
Mautner finished with four goals and O’Gorman and Bloes two each for Greenwich.
Lindley cautioned those who will no doubt assume state title No. 8 on Saturday will be a formality. Darien won the first meeting with the Mustangs, 12-4, on April 5.
“Hey you know what, Warde is a good team,” Lindley said. They’re well coached, they have a strong defense, we haven’t played them since the second game of the year so we are going to have to look at film, see what they have and we are going to be prepared. I don’t think it’s going to be a blowout, I think it will be a competitive game. We need to show up and play well to win.”