Dominant Second Half Carries Darien Past New Canaan For 8th Straight FCIAC Title

Darien’s Sarah Jaques tries to get by New Canaan’s Elizabeth Demarino. (Mark Conrad)

NORWALK – It wasn’t as if Darien girls lacrosse coach Lisa Lindley was surprised that her team was in a close game at halftime against New Canaan. But with the score tied 5-5, she wasn’t about to risk watching her top-ranked team lose another playoff game to its arch-rival.

So at halftime the coach spoke. And the Blue Wave players listened.

“In the first half we played tight and nerves took over,” Lindley said. “We had a gameplan but weren’t executing it. So at halftime I gave them a little pep talk and used the opportunity to reiterate what our gameplan was.”

Darien’s Charlotte Wittstock drives toward the goal. (Mark Conrad)

The halftime “pep” talk worked to near perfection. Darien played perhaps its best 25 minutes of the season — and that is saying something for the state’s No. 1-ranked team — after halftime and the Blue Wave dominated en route to a 12-7 victory.

“It was a clean-it-up speech,” Darien’s Ashley Humphrey said after the team secured its 18th FCIAC championship in 26 years. “We were frantic in the first half. But she reminded us to stop feeding the middle because New Canaan knew that’s what we want to do.”

Darien (17-2) scored the first five goals of the second half and never let up.

Darien goalie and game MVP Shea Dolce prepares for a shot by New Canaan’s Dillyn Patten. (Mark Conrad

“I don’t think we played a better half all season,” Humphrey said.

The Blue Wave spread it out on offense, attacked the goal and got good shots, won nearly all the draws and ground balls, stopped committing unforced turnovers and watched goalkeeper Shea Dolce earn MVP honors with numerous great saves.

“Seeing the attack play their best in the second half pumped me up to play my best,” said Dolce, who finished with eight saves, most of which were of the difficult variety.

New Canaan’s Kendall Patten controls the ball in front of the Darien goal. (Mark Conrad)

“Their goalie played great,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods added. “But we lost our composure in the second half. We didn’t take care of the ball. We played one half tonight. You have to play 50 minutes in a championship game.”

Darien was trying to avoid losing to New Canaan in a postseason game for the second year in a row. The Rams (15-4) upset Darien in last year’s state Class L semifinal, 12-11, ending Darien’s 107-game in-state undefeated streak.

Nearly 15 minutes into the second half the Blue Wave had a 10-5 lead, scoring five unanswered goals by Shea Van den Broek, Jordan Vaught, Mason Maloney, Maddie Joyce and Humphrey. After the Rams’ Kendall Patten ended the drought, the Blue Wave added two more tallies by Van den Broek and Humphrey to seal the deal before New Canaan’s Kaleigh Harden wrapped up the scoring.

Darien’s Charlotte Wittstock tries to get by New Canaan’s Kendall Patten. (Mark Conrad)

“We didn’t do a good job in the first half but I was very happy with the way they responded after halftime,” Lindley said. “We brought it in the second half. We were aggressive; the type of play I love.”

It was, as expected, an evenly played first half. The teams basically took turns scoring goals and neither the Rams nor Blue Wave had a lead of more than one goal. Considering that the teams went into the halftime break tied 27-27 since the start of last year’s state semifinal, the closeness of the contest surprised no one. Darien won the regular-season meeting 11-10 back on May 4.

Jane Charlton scored twice in the first half for New Canaan and McKenna Harden, Lauren Bisceglia and Dillyn Patten also scored for the Rams. Sarah Jaques had two goals for the Blue Wave in the first half while Humphrey, Katie Elders and Joyce had one goal apiece.

But while the first 25 minutes was a draw, the second half was one-sided.

Darien celebrates after winning its eighth straight FCIAC title. (Mark Conrad)

“They won all the draws in the second half and when you don’t have the ball, it’s tough,” Woods said. “We didn’t have the ball and we did we turned it over. That’s not a recipe for success.

“But hopefully,” Woods added, contemplating her team’s prospects for the upcoming state tournament, “we’ll get to see them again.”

NOTES: New Canaan defeated Greenwich and Staples by a combined 24-13 score to reach the final. Darien topped Trumbull and Wilton by a total of 39-11 to get to the championship game. … New Canaan’s only in-state loss was the one to Darien back on May 4. The Rams’ other losses were to a pair of New York schools. Both of Darien’s losses were to New York schools. … Darien entered the game with 17 FCIAC titles compared to just one for New Canaan (in the FCIAC’s first season, in 1993).

Darien’s captains show off the championship trophy. (Mark Conrad)

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