NORWALK — After tonight’s 16-9 victory over Wilton in the Class L semifinals, Darien’s Ashley Humphrey put her team’s return to the final into perspective.
“It is definitely a revenge tour so we’re really happy about the win. It’s been a while,” Humphrey said.
Humphrey’s tone made it sound like it has been decades since the Blue Wave played for the title. Or years.
Darien had its run of five straight championships ended last June, so there is probably a dog-years type of perspective. And that revenge tour really focuses on one opponent, New Canaan, which ended the Blue Wave’s run of 107-straight in-state wins in last season’s semifinals.
The Blue Wave defeated the Rams during the regular season and in the FCIAC final. Round three comes on Saturday after New Canaan, in a rematch of last season’s title game, defeated Ridgefield tonight, 8-5.
“I said to the girls at least we got that monkey off our back,” Darien coach Lisa Lindley said of advancing past the penultimate round.
The fourth-seeded Rams (18-5), which will look for a repeat, trailed the Tigers late in the first half, 4-2, before scoring four straight goals to take control.
There was a balanced scoring attack with the absence of Jane Charlton, who has a foot injury. Caroline O’Dea, with seven saves, was outstanding in goal. But the catalyst was freshman Kaleigh Harden, who dominated draw controls.
“We started switching the draws and that started working,” Harden said. “I kind of switched how I was taking it by my feet and where I was holding my stick so it could go where I wanted it. I think we came out stronger in the second half. We knew we had a lot more in us than we did in the first half and went out there and showed them everything that we had.”
The ninth-seeded Tigers (13-6) got within 6-5 on Hannah Boylan’s second goal, with 9:54 left, but Hollis Mulry, another freshman, answered 38 seconds later for the Rams, and Kendall Patten closed out the scoring.
Patten finished with three goals and Campbell Connors added two for New Canaan.
Afterward, New Canaan coach Kristin Woods was not lacking for players to praise.
“Kaleigh Harden is an athlete. She is tough to get by,” Woods said. “Everybody steps up. Kendall Patten was amazing. She’s been the core midfielder all season for us. She has come out of her shell as a senior and it’s exciting to see that. I think we will get back at it, practice this week and prepare for the big one.”
The second-seeded Blue Wave (20-2), which has not lost within state lines this spring, trailed Wilton, 2-1, before Humphrey scored three goals in a span of one minute and 58 seconds.
Darien built the lead up to six goals midway through the second half and the advantage never got below four the rest of the way.
Draw controls again were a deciding factor. Charlotte Wittstock did the heavy lifting for the Blue Wave.
“I think the biggest difference was the circle play,” Lindley said. “Charlotte was outstanding. She had to come up with about 75 percent of the draws so we had possession. It wasn’t one of our stronger performances on defense. We’re going to have to play better against New Canaan. Fortunately with our attackers everyone contributed and that’s the strength of our team. We’ve had seven or eight different scorers. It’s hard to defend.”
There were seven tonight, led by Humphrey’s six goals. Sarah Jaques added three, while Maddie Joyce and Shea van den Broek scored twice each.
“We have five or six attackers who can rotate in and do some damage so I think our depth is one of the things that helps us through these games, because we have fresh bodies on the field at all times,” Humphrey said. “I think once we get a couple of goals and get composed on offense we can settle in more. In the beginning we have a lot of adrenaline and that gets in the way of being able to settle the ball down. Once we got a couple goals in we really took our time on offense because time was on our side at that point. That’s when we get some nice goals.”
Carly Sullivan scored four goals and Sophie Sudano added three for the Warriors (13-6).
And now a season that started with Darien and New Canaan as prohibitive favorites to be playing on the final day will get the climactic conclusion.
Said Woods, “Hey, it’s hard to beat a good team three times.”