NEW CANAAN — It is unlikely — if not nearly impossible — for the No. 1-ranked team in the state to find itself in a must-win game during the regular season. But if one considered all the factors at play, such a scenario was not too far-fetched for the Darien girls lacrosse team today at second-ranked New Canaan.
For starters, the Blue Wave were coming off two tough defeats, both by one goal, the latter in double overtime, albeit both to strong out of state competition. No. 1 teams just don’t lose three in a row, though, regardless of the competition.
Then consider that today’s opponent was New Canaan, the same team that ended Darien’s 107-game in-state winning streak in last season’s state Class L semifinals. Another loss and their arch rivals just might take up residence inside the Blue Wave players’ heads heading into the postseason.
But with Sarah Jaques leading the way with five goals, Darien escaped with a 12-11 victory to secure its hold on the state’s No. 1 ranking.
Must win? Nah, but needed.
“This game was very important,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said. “We were coming off back to back losses by one goal. It was important to get a win today. We really needed it.”
Darien (10-2), which has won seven consecutive FCIAC championships, lost 10-9 last Saturday to Eastport-South Manor, N.Y., then dropped a 12-11 double overtime decision to Manhassett, ranked No. 2 in the country.
Throw in the fact that it is ALWAYS important to come out ahead in this great rivalry. But avenging last season’s 12-11 loss to New Canaan in the state semifinals could only go so far. After all, this was not the state semifinals. But it was rather gratifying nonetheless.
“This was definitely satisfying,” Jaques said. “We know after last year what it feels like to be on the opposite side in a game like this and we all said we don’t want to let the same thing happen again.”
New Canaan (9-3, with two of the losses to powerful New York schools) started out great. After Darien took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Kit Arrix 58 seconds in, the Rams scored three in a row — one by McKenna Harden and two by Duke-bound Jane Charlton — to take a 3-1 lead. The Rams kept the Blue Wave off the scoreboard for nearly 19 minutes before the turning point of the game occurred.
“We had a good start and I’m proud of how we fought,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. “But the yellow card was a huge momentum shift.”
New Canaan senior defender Caroline Schuh was given a yellow card after colliding with a Darien player with 5:34 remaining in the first half and the Rams leading, 3-1. Over the next 92 seconds Darien scored four times – Maddie Joyce had the first and Jaques had the next three. Darien never trailed again.
“The ref said it was body contact,” said Woods, who refused to question the call. “But then they go on a four-goal run. You can’t let in more than three in a row without responding with a goal of your own. Others had to step up with Caroline out but it was a good learning experience for us.”
Lindley, believe it or not, was the one who questioned the call.
“It was unfortunate (Schuh) got a yellow card,” Lindley said. “There were other worse plays than that that weren’t called. But once we were man-up, we should score. We executed very well.”
“The yellow card was huge,” Jaques added. “It shook our team up and made us realize we had to get aggressive. We didn’t get frustrated falling behind and then we ran our man-up plays and took advantage.”
New Canaan cut it to 5-4 at halftime when Kaleigh Harden scored with 30 seconds remaining.
With nine minutes remaining in the second half Darien opened a 10-6 lead. Jaques connected twice, with Jordan Vaught, Arrix and Joyce also scoring. McKenna Harden and Campbell Connors scored for New Canaan.
Then the Rams rallied, with McKenna Harden, Charlton and Dillyn Patten scoring, to make it 10-9. But while this wasn’t a true must-win situation for Darien, the Blue Wave nevertheless responded in a clutch way with a Katie Elders goal with 2:50 remaining.
Hollis Mulry completed the scoring for New Canaan with 55 seconds left to play.
“This was a real confidence factor coming off a tough loss to the No. 2 team in the country,” Jaques said. “New Canaan always gives us a good match but this win today makes us realize that we are still a great team.”