Anyone mentioning the word upset at the end of the first quarter turned out to be speaking prematurely.
Led by a defense that allowed one goal over the final 36 minutes, the unbeaten Darien High boys lacrosse team rallied to defeat Ridgefield, 11-6, on Saturday afternoon at Tiger Hollow.
The victory was the 69th straight for the Blue Wave, who have won four consecutive conference and state titles.
“I think Jeff (Darien head coach Jeff Brameier) understands we’re chasing them in a positive way and a very respectful way,” said Ridgefield head coach Roy Colsey after the game. “I have a ton of respect for the Darien program, the Darien community, and I think it takes a village to create a team that good.
“I’d be foolish not to emulate that and want to chase that,” continued Colsey. “My coaching staff and I joke about us being the Pittsburgh Steelers going against the [New England] Patriots all the time. For a long time we’ve been right there and we’ve got to figure out a way to get over that hump.”
For 12 minutes Saturday, Ridgefield looked as though it might be able to do just that. With Weston Carpenter scoring two goals, the Tigers found themselves ahead 5-4 at the end of an entertaining first quarter.
But Darien (15-0) responded with three unanswered goals in the second period to take a 7-5 lead. The Blue Wave then scored two goals at the beginning of the third quarter and were not threatened again.
Carpenter finished with three goals and an assist for Ridgefield (10-4). Teammates Ray Death, Reid Kagan, and James Isaacson added one goal apiece.
“I think we came out strong against their defense and had the right system in place to beat them,” said Carpenter. “But [as the game went on] we weren’t getting as many possessions, so that made us feel frustrated, which led to rushed shots and not the patient offense we showed in the first [period].”
Penn commit Jack Joyce had three goals for Darien, and Blake Sommi, Tanner Strub, and Hudson Pokorny added two goals apiece.
Perhaps most encouraging for the Blue Wave was that they won by five goals despite getting just one goal from Brian Minicus and none from Logan McGovern. Minicus and McGovern — Darien’s leading scorers — were shut down by Ridgefield defenders Noah Isaacson (who marked Minicus) and Luke Gaydos (who shadowed McGovern).
Turnovers and trouble on clears, however, contributed to Ridgefield’s downfall.
“We gave them the ball a lot and made a lot of mistakes clearing the ball,” said Colsey. “We didn’t do a good job of maximizing our possessions and ultimately we gave them too many possessions. I told my kids we would have to play a great game to beat a team that good and we didn’t.”
Darien opened the scoring with an early goal less than a minute into the game, but Carpenter got the equalizer by bouncing a shot into the net.
The Blue Wave won the ensuing face-off, but a blocked shot by Noah Isaacson helped give Ridgefield possession. James Isaacson then scored to put the Tigers in front 2-1.
Sommi evened the score before Dearth converted on a hard shot from the top of the box off an assist from Carpenter with five minutes left in the opening quarter.
Face-offs were a strong suit all game for Darien, and on the ensuing draw Straub won the ball and took it all the way for a goal that made it 3-3.
After Joyce gave Darien a 4-3 lead, Carpenter got the tying goal with 2:48 left. Despite losing the ensuing face-off, the Ridgefield defense was able to create a quick turnover and Dearth fed Kagan for the go-ahead goal with 2:29 on the clock.
A nice save by Ridgefield goalie Dan Parson preserved Ridgefield’s 5-4 lead at the end of the quarter.
“We shot well, created good shots, shared the ball well, and [the] possessions were about even,” said Colsey about his team’s opening quarter. “They got the ball, they scored; we got the ball, we scored. In the second half, we didn’t have nearly the same amount of possessions [as Darien did].”
After Darien scored two goals to take a 6-5 lead in the second quarter, the Blue Wave were penalized for a body check, giving Ridgefield a man-up opportunity with 4:19 left before halftime. But an unforced turnover led to a fast-break goal that pushed Darien’s lead to 7-5 at the break.
“We went from having a chance to even it up to the bubble bursting a bit,” said Colsey.
Darien scored twice in the 90 seconds of the third quarter to go ahead 9-5, and Ridgefield was unable to regain any of its first-quarter magic the rest of the way.
Carpenter completed his hat trick to get the Tigers within 9-6, but two Darien goals made it 11-6 at the end of the third quarter. Neither team scored in the final period.
Despite the loss, there was some good news for Ridgefield. Senior midfielder Greg Gatto, an All-State and All-American selection last season, will make his 2018 debut in Tuesday’s regular-season finale at home against Fairfield Ludlowe. Sidelined due to a broken wrist, Gatto finished physical therapy last Friday and has been cleared to return.
“I’m excited to be back,” said Gatto, who will play at Yale. “We have a huge opportunity in front of us. All the work we’ve put in from elementary school until now is going to come to fruition in the next few weeks and it’s up to us to own the moment and bring a championship home to Ridgefield.”