DARIEN — It is probably safe to assume that if the Darien and New Canaan field hockey teams meet for a fourth time in the FCIAC West Region final on Nov. 12, Blue Wave coach Mo Minicus will be hoping her players do not have the lead in the fourth quarter.
As hard as that is to understand, please consider:
Today, for the second time this season, the Blue Wave led its rival late in the fourth quarter. And for the second time the Rams rallied for a victory. With Marlee Smith scoring twice within a minute-and-a-half in the final four minutes, the Rams pulled out an unlikely 3-2 victory over the stunned Blue Wave . . . just as it happened nearly five weeks ago in the teams’ first meeting.
“Sometimes,” Minicus said after the loss, “it’s easier to come back (from a one-goal deficit) than to hold on.”
That seems to go against how most coaches might feel about a fourth-quarter lead. But considering these teams’ history — they have combined for nine outright state championships and two co-titles since 2003 — it makes a lot of sense.
“This is always a great rivalry,” New Canaan coach Mary Clare Snediker said after her team tied Darien for first place in the West with one regular season game remaining. “These are the games we play for.”
The first meeting was eerily similar to today’s contest. Darien led that one 2-0 with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter before the Rams scored twice to force overtime. Then, in the fifth minute of overtime, New Canaan’s Shawna Ferraro scored to give the Rams (7-1-1-0) the unlikely victory.
Darien’s lead today was 2-1 when Smith emerged from a scramble in front of Darien goalie Grace La Du (three saves) and knocked a shot in for the tying goal.
It was deja vu all over again 1:26 later when Smith repeated her effort from in close giving the Rams a 3-2 lead.
“On the tying goal I got the ball and got it between the goalie’s legs. It was electric after that,” Smith said of the sudden energy that boiled over for the Rams. “Then on the (go-ahead) goal, I got the ball from Anna (Lindeis) and just led it into the goal. I knew we could beat them. When it got to the fourth quarter we had so much energy.”
For the Blue Wave, which probably still had that season-opening loss on its minds, it might have been a slightly different emotion.
“In the last four minutes,” Minicus said, “we got the yips.”
Darien (7-1-0-1) had the better of play in the third quarter and took the lead 2-1 on Ryan Hapgood’s goal. Hapgood gained control of a loose ball in front of New Canaan goalie Megan Lydon (six saves) and tapped it in for the lead.
Ferraro scored in the 10th minute of the game, but Darien tied it in the second quarter on a goal by Sarah Bogdan.
That set up another fourth-quarter bonanza for the Rams and another disappointment for the Blue Wave, which has won outright or tied for the FCIAC championship nine times since 2008.
“We turned it over three times late in the fourth quarter and they scored each time,” Minicus said, also referring to a Rams’ goal off a corner that was disallowed as the clock struck 00:00. “But it will be great for us to learn from this.”
Now imagine if these teams get to play a fourth time next Thursday. New Canaan is now technically in first place by virtue of its two victories in three meetings against Darien. The Rams end the regular season Thursday at Greenwich, which tied New Canaan 2-2 earlier this season. Darien, meanwhile, ends the regular season with a date at Westhill, a team the Blue Wave has defeated 10-0 in two earlier meetings.
New Canaan and Darien will finish 1-2 with Greenwich third heading into the semifinals next Tuesday. Stamford and Westhill will play a first-round tournament game on Saturday, with the winner playing the No. 1 team.
If all goes according to plan, the fourth meeting between New Canaan and Darien would be for the West Region championship next Thursday. Of course, it’s always one game at a time for coaches, but try telling that to the players after today’s latest thriller.
“Maybe we’ll meet again, I hope so,” Smith said. “They have one, we have two. But the next one is the big one.”
“Can we we face them again? I hope so,” added Minicus.