WETHERSFIELD — Christine Taylor knew her thumb was broken the moment the ball hit her hand.
Staples’ senior captain took a rocket off the stick of teammate Elle Fair midway through the second half of a scoreless tie in today’s CIAC Class L final against Darien. Despite the injury, there was nothing that would have forced her off the field. Ten minutes later Taylor hit a laser of her own that was deflected into the back of the Darien cage by senior forward Abby Najarian for the only score of the game, as the No. 7 Wreckers defeated No. 5 Darien, 1-0, at Cottone Field.
“It’s amazing, absolutely incredible,” Staples coach Ian Tapsall said. “For what these girls have done since the beginning of the season; it takes a while to get everybody gelling, everybody on the right page, buying into what we try to do but I think they did it perfectly in the last four games of states.”
The win capped off a spectacular postseason run for the Wreckers, who took out Wilton and Cheshire before defeating FCIAC foe Greenwich, 2-0, in the semifinals, only to have perhaps their biggest rival waiting for them in the title game. It was only appropriate that it all came down to a Staples and Darien collision course, as last year’s Class L final ended in a 0-0 draw and a co-championship for the two teams.
“We came in this season with the motto ‘No Co,’ ” Taylor said. “For that to come true for my senior year, it’s amazing.”
Amazing sums up the effort by the Wreckers, who came out of the gates strong against the Blue Wave. Staples dominated possession in the early minutes of the game, as Taylor and freshman Madelaine Ambrose did a terrific job in transition, consistently keeping the ball in Darien’s zone and giving the Wreckers several early chances to strike first blood.
Even so, stingy Darien defense — led by senior goalie Erica Blaze (7 saves) and senior defenders Sally Cassidy and Kiki Tropsa —helped thwart two early penalty corners to keep the game scoreless.
Darien sophomore Molly Hellman almost broke the tie with a steal and breakaway. Staples goalie Bridget Mulloy (7 saves) prevented the score with a kick save of Hellman’s shot, sending the teams into the half tied at zero.
The Blue Wave began the second half with a relentless press, rushing Staples’ back passes to begin to turn the tide their way. After a Staples penalty gave Darien a man-up advantage, the Blue Wave looked primed to cash in, as a flurry in front of the Wreckers’ goal resulted in a one-on-one penalty stroke opportunity just three minutes into the second half.
Darien senior captain Kendall Wisinski took the attempt, which sailed high to the glove side of Mulloy, who made a diving save to keep the game knotted at 0-0.
“When she plays big and stands up and focuses, it’s really tough to get anything past her,” Tapsall said of his junior goalie. “It’s a psychological thing when you see a big goalie in the way and she guessed absolutely right on the penalty stroke. I couldn’t ask for more from her or from anybody else.”
“We’ve had strokes called against us in FCIACs and state finals last year, so to have one called against us this year was like PTSD,” Taylor said. “Our goalie stepped up, and for her to make an unbelievable save was clutch.”
Despite the breathtaking play by Mulloy, the Blue Wave continued to pound Staples’ circle, picking up three consecutive penalty corners, only to be denied every time by the Wreckers’ defense, led by Fair, Liv Eckholdt and Grace Cooper.
Just as it looked like déjà vu with less than six minutes left in the scoreless game, Taylor — sporting a glove to mitigate her injury — saw an opening in front of her from 25 yards out and fired the ball toward the right post of the Darien goal. And waiting there was Abby Najarian.
“I was lucky enough to be in the right spot at the right time with my stick on the ground and deflected it in the air,” Najarian said. “To be honest, I did a double-take. I didn’t think that it had happened. The first thought in my mind was ‘wow, this is actually possible.’ And the second thought was that we have to keep it going and not let up.”
Darien mounted one final push in the closing minutes as a penalty gave the Wave another man-up opportunity. When Wisinski sent a centering pass across the circle with 22 seconds left, the Staples fans held their collective breath. The pass, however, was redirected and sent out of the zone by Fair, clinching the title for the Wreckers.
“Statistically we probably dominated,” Darien coach Mo Minicus said. “I don’t even know how many corners we had. They get one opportunity down there and they score. That’s field hockey. I’m incredibly proud of the way they played, even down to the last cross. It’s just one of those games where the ball really didn’t bounce our way.”
“They did exactly what I wanted them to do,” Tapsall said. “I told the girls eventually something would happen. Hopefully things would fall in our favor and it did.”