Roy Colsey’s shirt had not even dried from his water-bucket shower yesterday when one lacrosse website posed a question: Is “stall ball” the right way to win a championship?
This of course stemmed from Colsey’s decision to have the Ridgefield team he coaches go into a delay in an attempt to maximize its chances of upsetting Darien, ranked No. 2 in one national poll, winner of 76 straight games and four successive state titles.
And it worked. Holding the ball for over seven minutes on one possession, the Tigers shortened the contest, jumped out to an 8-2 lead, withstood the most ferocious of comeback attempts and held on for a 9-8 win. Given the Blue Wave’s streak and their reach, it can be debated whether the biggest story of the state high school season took place on the final day.
But almost immediately, from social media to different outlets that cover the sport, there were allusions to how the Tigers played within the rules, but…..
Perhaps I would have responded the same way if this had taken place in another region of the country. However, having witnessed yesterday’s game, and been around for the entirety of the Blue Wave’s magical ride, I have to say STOP. The debate about a shot clock is not just reasonable but necessary. I favor one, just as I do in basketball. Yet holding this discourse almost immediately after the Tigers received their plaque does them a great disservice.
It holds the allusion that Ridgefield did something illicit, or that their first state title since 2011 was not legitimate. The Tigers still had to win draws, possess the ball, force turnovers and, most importantly, score goals.
Check, check, check and check.
Was it aesthetically pleasing? No. Colsey even prefaced as much. When I arrived on the field 45 minutes before the start, he was the first person I saw. We shook hands, said hello and without prompting he gave me a warning: “You are going to hate the way we play today.”
Colsey said the strategy was counterintuitive to his beliefs. He also knew that if the Tigers tried to match tempo, they would become the Blue Wave’s 77th straight victim. So he admitted he would rather win ugly than lose beautifully.
And then Colsey’s players executed the gameplan to perfection. Ridgefield’s long sequence of passes more often than not resulted in a goal.
Video of the Tigers’ rousing celebration at the buzzer has gone viral in the lacrosse community. And Colsey explained why: Not only had his team earned a state championship, it had done so by taking down mighty Darien.
To fully appreciate that, you have to fully appreciate what the Blue Wave had accomplished prior to yesterday. Their winning streak was the third-longest ever by a boys lacrosse team in the nation. The wins came playing in one of the country’s toughest leagues. Darien coach Jeff Brameier always schedules the best teams from the region, and again this year the top program in California.
My memory is foggy, but I don’t recall any FCIAC team in any sport having a better season than the Blue Wave did a year ago, when they rolled through another slate of tough opponents and ended up selected as the top team in the country. I am a huge skeptic on national high school polls, but you have to build up some pretty strong currency to end up in the top 25, let alone No. 1. It is a testament to the program Brameier assembled and has kept in operation.
So if you were Colsey yesterday, what would you have done? For all the Blue Wave have accomplished in victory, I was almost more impressed by what they did in defeat. Like a champion against the ropes that refuses to go down, Darien erupted for five goals in the span of 1:44 to make the score 9-8 with 1:55 remaining. It was spectacular — and ironically the best refutation Colsey could have put up for those critical of his tactics.
Darien won five games this year by one goal, another pair by two scores. It had a chance to tie the game late but on this day, for the first time in over three years, could not deliver.
Brameier, classy in defeat, referenced the need for a shot clock when he mentioned that the Tigers played within the rules. Colsey is in favor or there would have been no need for his pregame warning.
High school lacrosse and basketball are in need of a shot clock , or else you are rewarding playing not to lose. It needs to be discussed, addressed and ultimately introduced.
Lets just save it for another day or two. The Tigers deserve a little time to enjoy their title.
They earned it.