NORWALK — When Jack Kniffin tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee minutes into the start of the season opening game, the rest of his year was locked in uncertainty.
Fortunately, the junior attack healed on schedule, used the end of the regular season to regain his stamina and on Thursday night helped the Darien boys lacrosse team win its second straight FCIAC title.
Kniffin scored three of the Blue Wave’s first four goals to help them overcome an early 2-0 deficit and take a lead they would never relinquish. The 9-5 victory over Ridgefield required a methodical attack and a reliance on well-executed fundamentals.
“I was just happy I could be out here,” Kniffin said. “I think my teammates put me in a great position to score today. It means a lot. I have to help out the team and hold up my end. I had a couple of turnovers I’d like to have back. It is always good to help the team out getting goals.”
The boys game was a stark contrast to the day’s opener, when the Darien girls team used a late flurry to overcome a four-goal deficit and won its fourth straight league title with a dramatic 13-12 win over rival New Canaan.
In a low scoring game, the Darien boys did its major damage in the second quarter, scoring five times to take a 6-4 halftime lead. The key was the play of faceoff specialist Andrew Pugliese, whose mastery of his trade earned the third-seeded Blue Wave (16-3) control of the ball and the senior a most valuable player trophy.
“It’s the nature of the game and we are lucky to have a good faceoff guy who carried us in a couple of key wins because he gave us extra possessions,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said.
The fourth-seeded Tigers (14-5) got as close as 6-5 in the third quarter on Ryan Dunn’s second goal, but Darien pitched a shutout the rest of the way. Hudson Hamill scored his second goal during the game-ending 3-0 run. Kevin Lindley, Ian Burgoyne, Christian Trifone and Colin Minicus also scored for Darien.
“We played great defense. It was just a great defensive game,” Brameier said. “We did just enough on the scoring side.”
Darien, led by Mark Evanchick, was able to hold Ridgefield star Simon Mathias scoreless. Schuyler Blair added a pair of goals for the Tigers and goaltender Brendan Winne was spectacular at the start of the fourth quarter, making five saves to keep the score close.Photos: Darien Defeats Ridgefield To Win FCIAC Title
After seeing their 34-game winning streak ended by New Canaan, starting a slump of three losses in four games, the Blue Wave rebounded nicely.
Kniffin said the tempo of the game was somewhat surprising, spurred by Ridgefield’s defensive alignment.
“With the zone it slows the game down so we were a lot more in a set offense,” Kniffin said. “Coach had a couple of set plays today to make sure we ran our stuff and I think we executed well.”
Darien 13, New Canaan 12
NORWALK — The play is called “5” because of the way the offense is aligned. It is the one Darien girls lacrosse coach Lisa Lindley relies on when she absolutely needs a goal.
And with Thursday’s FCIAC championship game against New Canaan tied at 12-12 in the third and sudden-death overtime period, the Blue Wave were in need of a score.
Mariah Matheis took a pass from Anna Moorhead to the left of the net and one-timed a quick shot to give Darien a dramatic 13-12 win and its fourth straight conference title.
“When we went into sudden death Lisa said ‘We’re running 5 Left,’ ” Matheis said. “We had to finish and we did today and I’m so proud of such a team effort. It’s just amazing.”
Asking Lindley to compare championships is like asking a parent to pick out a favorite child — if she were the mother of 14. But even Lindley had to agree, with her team down by four goals early in the second half, this one resonated more than many of the others.
“This is one of my best wins ever,” Lindley said. “I thought we were dead to the water. But you know what? Our defense won the game. Our attack wasn’t playing well. We lost every draw. That’s what’s special about our program. Don’t ever count us out. We have a lot of heart. We have a lot of depth.”
Lilly Gregory, the catalyst for the comeback, was named the most valuable player.
“Lilly Gregory was amazing,” Lindley said. “And Mariah, we only use that play when we need a goal and we practiced it a lot this week. Mariah is always the go-to. Mariah is money.”
It was a crushing loss for the Rams (15-4), who seemed in control of the game until early in the second half. Their only league title was in 1993 — the league’s first season — and their lone losses in state this year are to Darien (15-3).
The Rams controlled the ball, the tempo and everything about the game early. They were up 8-4 less than 90 seconds into the second half. Kylie Murphy and Catherine Granito led the offense, with three goals apiece, while Elizabeth Miller (two goals) was doing a stellar job at quarterback.
The Blue Wave’s hopes for a comeback might have seemed more realistic if they were playing well to that point.
“It was a little shaky. I think we were really frazzled at the beginning and it really came down to who wanted it more,” Gregory said. “It really showed who we are as a team, to pull out the win.
Katie Cronin and Laura Murphy, who finished with three goals apiece, combined to score three times in just over two minutes late in regulation to tie the score at 10-10. The teams traded two goals in the first two overtimes to force sudden death.
“This was a huge team win for us,” Matheis said. “We never got down because we knew what we were capable of. In situations like these it is teams like ours that come up big. I’m just so proud of everyone.”