DARIEN — The Darien boys lacrosse team could lose just twice in a season, which, by all standards given the level of competition coach Jeff Brameier schedules, would be considered a great success.
But if the losses come in the league and state playoffs, if, to use one of Brameier’s favorite expressions, the year ends without a pile — players in a pyramid celebrating a postseason championship — success turns to nonfulfillment.
There were no piles last spring, all of which put Saturday’s home game against Niskayuna, a regional power out of the Albany area, under the microscope.
“Everyone considered it a disappointment,” Darien goaltender Phil Huffard said. “To come away with nothing. This year we have great senior leadership. We’ve all been playing together a really long time.”
In a display that the Blue Wave hope will be replicated twice when it matters most, they got to pile after an incredibly hard-fought 8-7 win over the Silver Warriors. It avenged a loss last season, when Darien took an 0-for against out of state teams.
“We’ve got a lot of things to make up,” Brameier said.
How the win was accomplished was as impressive as the outcome itself.
Darien literally erupted at the outset, scoring four goals in the first seven minutes. The intensity on the sideline was palpable.
Twelve minutes later the Blue Wave were behind, 5-4.
“We came out doing anything we wanted to do, scrapping for ground balls, scoring,” Brameier said. “We gave up a goal that got them juiced a little bit and then their goalie got hot. You look at the scoreboard, the way we outshot them, and it was tied.”
Darien had a 21-7 edge in shots but found itself in a 6-6 deadlock.
Then the game morphed from a tradeoff of spurts into a defensive battle spurred by tremendous goaltending between Huffard and Niskayuna’s Nick Testa. During one spectacular exchange in the first 90 seconds of the third quarter, there were three point-blank saves.
At halftime we felt on our defensive side that they just stuck good shots,” Huffard said. “They made plays and you just have to tip your hats to them. In the second half we made adjustments. If they took shots that we wanted them to take, then I’d have a pretty good shot at saving them. Hats off to the other goalie. He played outstanding. He kept them in the game. That’s what has to happen to win a game like this, your goalie has to play big, your face-off guy. All the guys have to step up.”
In the game within the game, Huffard finished with 11 saves, while Testa made 18. It became a battle of can-you-top-this that brought out the best in both.
“You always want to compete,” Huffard said. “You never want to leave the field thinking the position on the opposite of you played better. As soon as you get in a rhythm it’s pretty lights out.”
There were a number of reasons for Darien to walk away buoyed at its prospects. Harry Gillespie’s second goal turned into the game-winner with 5:41 remaining. Jack Kniffin also scored twice, while the Blue Wave did a good job with ball control the rest of the way. Andrew Pugilese stepped up on faceoffs, while Mark Evanchick, who spent the fall terrorizing quarterbacks on the same field, was a key part of a defensive effort that slowed a team that had outscored opponents, 68-19, in a 4-0 start.
Mike D’Amario, who had scored 20 goals, was limited to just a pair.
“In the second half it was two teams fighting their hearts out,” Brameier said. “It was a totally different second half. There was a lot of pressure, a lot of defense, both goalies got hot. We did a good job on faceoffs. We got schooled last year. Andrew Pugliese really grew up. And Phil is a senior leader. He’s very experienced. He was also good out of the cage and clearing the ball.”
It was only the second game for the Blue Wave, but their mood leaving the field was as warm as the bright spring day.
“We have teams we have to strive to get back after, and hope this is a step in the right direction,” Brameier said.