New Canaan gets payback against Darien
Surviving and advancing in the Class M state tournament was the No. 1 priority for the New Canaan girls lacrosse team Monday afternoon.
But the top-seeded Rams also made no secret of their desire to gain revenge against rival Darien, which handed New Canaan its first and only loss of the season in the FCIAC semifinals.
The Rams spent the last two weeks begging for a rematch.
“I really can’t explain how much we wanted this,” standout junior Olivia Hompe said. “We’ve been counting down the days.”
Thanks to one of its best first-half performances of the season and some clutch goals down the stretch, the Rams were able to take care of both matters with a 9-6 victory over the ninth-seeded Blue Wave in the Class M quarterfinals at Dunning Field in New Canaan.
The Rams totally dominated Darien in the first half, unleashing their pent-up anger by taking a 6-0 lead into the break. The Blue Wave (13-6) scored the first four goals of the second half to pull to within 6-4.
New Canaan wasn’t going to let Darien break its heart again, getting consecutive free position goals from Kristine Ryan, Beatrix Eppler (two goals) and Caroline Lizzio then held on down the stretch.
“We got out-played on our home field in front of all our fans the last time we played them,” said Hompe, who scored New Canaan’s sixth goal of the game. “We knew if we got another shot at them we had to get revenge.”
New Canaan can now move on to its goal of winning a state title when it meets No. 5 New Fairfield in the Class M semifinals on Wednesday. The Rebels (14-4) advanced with a 14-6 win over No. 4 Farmington.
Third-seeded Wilton and No. 2 East Lyme will meet in the other semifinal, setting up a possible FCIAC collision in the Class M state championship game, which will be played Saturday at Bunnell High School in Stratford.
“Regardless of who we play, winning FCIAC and states were our two major goals for the season,” Hompe said. “We were pretty bummed that we played so poorly in the FCIAC playoffs, but we knew we had to put it behind us. States is all we have left and we’re going to give it everything we have.”
The Rams definitely gave Darien their best in the first half, getting two goals each from Sarah Mannelly and Lily Citrin and one each from Eppler and Hompe to take a commanding 6-0 lead.
Even more impressive was the performance by New Canaan’s defense, which held the Blue Wave to just three shots over the first 20 minutes. The Rams unleashed 12 shots of their own and dominated time of possession after turning the ball over just three times in the first half.
New Canaan goalie Liz O’Sullivan made three of her five saves in the first half, including a free-position stop against Darien’s Taylor Hardison with six seconds left.
The back line, led by Julia Tuttle and Kelly Armstrong, who also won 10 of 17 draws on the day, were ferocious in refusing to give Darien’s attacking forwards room to shoot.
“We’ve had the last two weeks to prepare for this game,” New Canaan head coach Kristin Woods said. “Our kids came out with a lot of intensity because of what happened in the FCIAC game. They worked hard the past two weeks and put all their effort into it. This was the best 50 minutes I’ve seen them play this year.”
Hompe thinks her team can still play better, which would be a scary thought for the three remaining teams.
“I think the first half was definitely our best half so far this season,” Hompe said. “I still think we can play better. Everyone stepped up. But if we can push it to the next level there’s no team that can beat us.”
Darien quickly turned the table in the second half, dominating the first 15 minutes with four uanswered goals by Charlett Stevenson, Caroline Benitez, Emily Stein and Dillon Schoen to pull to within 6-4 with 11:21 left.
Darien goalie Caylee Waters gave the Blue Wave a chance to make the comeback with four of her six saves in the second half, including free position stops against Hompe and Mannelly, New Canaan’s top two players on back-to-back shots with 15 minutes left.
The turning point came when Darien’s defense was hit with two three-second calls. Ryan was given the first free position chance and buried her shot to give New Canaan some breathing room at 7-4 with 10:02 left.
Eppler did the same, and after Darien’s Jenna Fritz hit the post, Lizzio scored on her own free position shot to make it 9-4.
“One of our themes is don’t let the other team score more than three in a row,” Woods said. “I called that timeout when they had just scored three, and we answered back. That was the perfect time to answer back.”
Darien never quit, getting late goals from Brynn Gasparino and Stein, but the Rams gained possession with 1:40 left and ran out the clock by playing keep-away.
Darien simply could not make up for the slow start.
“We didn’t get the ball off the draw,” said assistant coach Kerri Iorfino. “New Canaan had the ball for 90 percent of the first half and when we did have the ball we turned it over.”
“Any time we play New Canaan it’s a tough game,” Iorfino said. “We don’t take them lightly and I don’t think they take us lightly. It’s always a great game.”