Darien knocks off No. 1 New Canaan
Lisa Lindley isn’t the type of person to let her emotions get the better of her mind.
However, with each second-half goal her Darien girls lacrosse team scored against undefeated and top-ranked New Canaan, with each successive nail in the coffin that brought the fourth-seeded Blue Wave another step closer to an unlikely appearance in the FCIAC championship game, even the strong-willed and ever-intense Lindley had to fight to keep a smile from spreading across her face.
“I was definitely fighting it,” Lindley said. “It was tough because the goals just kept coming so fast.”
When senior Brynn Gasparino buried the final one with 6.9 seconds left, putting the finishing touch on a surprising 15-9 victory over the top-seeded Rams under rainy skies Monday night at Dunning Field in New Canaan, Lindley was grinning from ear-to-ear.
And this time, she wasn’t hiding it.
Behind a dominant performance on draw controls by senior Charlett Stevenson, shut-down defense by Emily Tropsa and Vanessa Budd, and the quick-strike scoring of Gasparino (five goals), junior Kristen Gilbert (three goals) and junior Taylor Hardison (four goals, two assists), Darien succeeded in doing what no one thought was possible, handing the Rams (17-1) their first loss of the season while earning a berth to the FCIAC championship game Friday at 4 p.m. at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field.
In another surprise, the Blue Wave will face No. 3 Greenwich, which knocked off two-time defending FCIAC champion Wilton in the other semifinal Monday at Dunning Field.
“We were the big underdog. I think everyone thought New Canaan had us,” Gasparino said. “But beating them today by as much as we did today was great. Playing here under the lights in this great facility, everyone was just ready to go.”
The Blue Wave (13-5) reached the penultimate night of the season in impressive fashion, jumping out to a 7-3 halftime lead then using a slow-down offense after making it 13-4 in the second.
“I thought we had a good game-plan coming in and the girls really did a good job of executing it,” Lindley said. “I knew if the girls could execute the game plan we could beat them.”
Darien lost to New Canaan 9-8 during the regular season.
It’s only other FCIAC loss came against Greenwich, a 13-12 setback that went down to the final seconds.
All along, Lindley felt she had the best team in the FCIAC, and perhaps the Blue Wave proved that against the Rams.
“All I can say is it took us 17 games to get to this point as far as having supreme confidence,” Lindley said. “I’ve always had faith in these girls. As you saw tonight, any one of my kids can score. As a coach, I try to stress that philosophy, that there’s strength in numbers, not just relying on one person to carry you call year.”
New Canaan had the shoulders of senior Sarah Mannelly and junior Olivia Hompe to lean on all season, but Tropsa and Budd helped the Blue Wave hold the two offensive standouts in check with solid face-guarding defense.
Mannelly scored just one first-half goal and Hompe was held without a goal before scoring two quick ones past goalie Caylee Waters (seven saves) with 7:48 left in the second half.
By that time, it was much too late for the Rams.
“Our defense really shut them down,” Gasparino said. “The few times they got by Caylee really did a great job stopping them. She made some great saves. We played two face-guards in the zone and that really worked out well.”
Stevenson, who scored one goal and assisted on another, helped Darien keep momentum early by winning seven of 11 faceoffs in the first half and 13 of the 17 draws she took on the night.
“We didn’t show up with 100 percent enthusiasm tonight,” New Canaan head coach Kristin Wood said. “We just weren’t coming up with draw controls. We barely had the ball in the first half. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.”
Darien did a tremendous job tacking on goals, never letting New Canaan wrestle the momentum away from them.
After Carolina Lizzio scored off an assist by Isabel Taber to pull New Canaan to within 5-3 with 3:34 left in the first half, back came the Blue Wave with two unanswered goals by Hardison, one into an open net off a feed from Stevenson with goalie Liz O’Sullivan caught out of the cage and the other a back-breaking free position shot with just 1.3 seconds left before halftime.
Darien then scored the first three goals of the second half to take a 10-3 lead, and after a goal by New Canaan’s Kristin Ryan (three goals), the Blue Wave tacked on three more to make it 13-4 with 13:06 left.
That was pretty much the end for New Canaan, which will now shift its attention toward the state tournament.
Darien will now attempt to win its first FCIAC title since 2009. Greenwich’s last FCIAC crown came in 2003.
“If we play like we did today we can definitely beat them,” Gasparino said. “We have to keep the ball moving and finish all our shots because we didn’t do that the first time we played them.”
Dillon Schoen had a goal and two assists for Darien while Jenna Fritts also scored a goal. Emily Stein added two assists.
Brianna McEwan had two goals and Lily Citrin also scored a goal for New Canaan. Beatrix Eppler added an assist.
Darien finished with a 29-20 advantage in shots and a 16-11 edge in faceoff wins.