Major comeback leads Darien past Ridgefield in state semis

When the Ridgefield High boys volleyball team won the first two games and then opened a 20-14 lead over Darien in game three, the pattern looked to be repeating.

The past two seasons, the Tigers had lost to Darien in the conference finals and then gone on to beat the Blue Wave in the Class L state championship match. Although Darien again recently defeated Ridgefield to win this year’s FCIAC title, the Tigers were five points away from sweeping the Blue Wave in the Class L semifinals Monday night at Fairfield Warde.

But following a timeout, Ridgefield head coach Lidania Cibere noticed a difference in the Darien players.

“They finally got loud,” she said. “They woke up a little bit and we started questioning ourselves.”

Less than an hour later, the third-seeded Tigers were still searching for answers. Darien won seven of the next eight points after the timeout to tie the third game at 21-21. Ridgefield recovered to go ahead, 23-22, but the Blue Wave took three straight points to win the set, 25-23.

The end of the fourth game was similar. The Tigers had a 22-21 lead before Darien rallied for another 25-23 victory that evened the match at 2-2.

With the winner-take-all fifth game tied at 11, Darien sent a serve out of bounds and then blasted a kill attempt long over a Ridgefield block at the net. The miscues gave the Tigers a 13-11 lead and left them two points away from a berth in the state finals.

Those points never came. After calling a timeout, Darien returned to the court and reeled off four straight points to win the game and complete an improbable comeback. The Blue Wave won the match by scores of 23-25, 14-25, 25-23, 25-23, and 15-13.

“We had a few errors and missed a few pivotal serves,” said Cibere, whose team was aiming for a fourth consecutive Class LL championship. “But we didn’t play badly. We were consistent and Darien started out flat. They just played a lot better after that timeout (with Ridgefield ahead 20-14) in the third game.

“As a coach, it stinks to lose a match like this,” continued Cibere. “But at least we went down fighting. We didn’t fall apart after they came back to win the third and fourth games.”

Cibere acknowledged that it was a difficult loss for her talented senior class.

“These seniors were a part of two or three state titles, and they wanted to go out with a fourth straight,” said Cibere. “I told them that a lot of kids go through high school without winning any championships. But the bar has been set high for us. That’s why it was disappointing for them.”

Notes: Darien (24-1) will play either top-seed Cheshire or fourth-seed East Hartford in the Class L finals Thursday.

Ridgefield ended the season with a 21-3 record. All three losses came against Darien.