DARIEN — The rivalry between the New Canaan and Darien girls lacrosse teams has produced memorable moments, spectacular finishes and dramatic upsets.
Until this afternoon at Darien Stadium, it likely has not had a game that was more evenly played. For nearly 53 minutes, the state’s two top teams were mirror images, particularly on the scoreboard. Only one team led by more than one goal — Darien for four minutes and 40 seconds early in the second half. The teams traded goals for the final 17 minutes of regulation and into overtime, when a single score was all that was needed.
And the Rams’ Kaleigh Harden delivered it with just 14.6 seconds left in the first of two three-minute overtimes, charging in from a free position and putting a low shot by Blue Wave goaltender Shea Dolce for a 10-9 win.
“Obviously there was 15 seconds left and I knew I had to get it back in the net, and that’s what I did,” said Harden, who finished with three goals and seven draw controls. “Our team worked so hard for this. We deserved that win. I just wanted to get it in the back of the net. That’s it.”
New Canaan has had its most difficulty with Darien during the regular season. The Rams’ last win before this spring was in 2012. Now, with an added game this season because of the loss of interstate play, they have defeated the Blue Wave twice in the last 11 days.
It is unclear the last time the Rams won two straight times against their border rival. Including the postseason, they won two of three meetings in 2012, but Darien took the middle game. Records going back the past 14 years did not produce an instance of consecutive victories.
“This was extraordinary,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. “I’m glad my kids came to compete today. It’s another game in the regular season so we will see once the postseason starts. It was a big game. It feels good.”
Both goaltenders — Darien’s Shea Dolce and New Canaan’s Claire Mahoney — dominated the first half, waging their own personal battle of can-you-top-this in amazing saves. The half ended with Darien ahead, 3-2.
Colette Quinn’s goal less than two minutes into the second half gave the Blue Wave a 4-2 lead. Harden scored twice 62 seconds apart, Dillyn Patten got her second goal and the Rams surged to a 5-4 lead.
From there the teams traded goals in a tense chess match, with Sadie Stafford sending the game into overtime by scoring with 1:55 left in regulation.
“You know what, that could have gone either way,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “Unfortunately in the end we were fatigued, the ball was on defense a lot, we couldn’t come up with a groundball. That killed us all game. The draws we made an adjustment, we started winning them, got back in it. It’s just the way it is. We played a much better game than the first time we saw them.”
Ryan Hapgood scored three goals and Ceci Stein added a pair for Darien (5-2), which lost the teams’ earlier meeting, 7-5.
Darien took 23 shots and Lindley was disappointed with the placement.
“We had a ton of shots and we didn’t convert,” Lindley said. “Especially in the first half, we had a lot of looks. We have to shoot better.”
Because the Rams (7-0) were forced to quarantine early in preseason, they have played seven games in the last 11 days. They play tomorrow, get two days that will likely seem like two weeks off, then play back to back games.
“I said it in the beginning of the season when we found out that it was going to be a lot of games, that’s our postseason. “We go Monday, Wednesday, Friday and they have to be ready to play,” Woods said, referring to the schedule for the FCIAC playoffs. Until the end.”
When asked if she was tired, Harden smiled.
“No,” she said. “It feels really good because our team has worked really hard for this,” Harden said. “We’re really excited about the win. Our first game was a statement win but beating them a second time definitely means a lot. It shows how hard our team has worked and how good our team is. We work hard every day.”
Woods has had to weigh practices versus rest on the rare off days. Her players seem oblivious to any pauses.
“I really think these kids work really hard and they’re a great group of athletes and competitors,” Woods said. “When it comes down to it these girls love to compete and last year being taken away from them really lit a fire under them.”