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Wave wins but loses Branca in shutout of higher seed Rams at states

Darien 4, New Canaan 0

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Spencer McMullin (right) and Ben Highton (left) celebrate the former’s first of two goals in Darien’s first round win over the Rams at Dunning Field on Friday. (Darien Times/Steven Buono photo)

BOYS SOCCER

The Wave shellacked New Canaan 4-0 in the opening round of states. But rather than psyched, Darien coach Jon Bradley seemed a little shell-shocked instead.

He had good reason to be, despite the better than good result.

“Well obviously it’s tough,” he said, “picking up a bad injury.”

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Brennan Branca (right), not injured on this play, did leave the game later hurting his ankle falling to the turf. (Darien Times/Steven Buono photo)

That bad ankle injury is to its best player, senior Brennan Branca, who went down in the fist half in the Class L first round match where the 18th seed Wave knocked off No. 15 New Canaan — the team that beat Darien 2-1 a month ago in their only previous meeting — at Dunning Field on Friday.

“So we’ll see,” Bradley said, with the Wave next taking on No. 2 Barlow in Redding 2 p.m. Sunday in the second round. “When we scored the last two goals, he (Branca) wasn’t in. We still had a real good performance.”

Especially from Spencer McMullin who was the fastest man on the field and used his speed to best advantage putting away the first two goals, adding an assist on the day.

“We lost to them in the regular season, they’re definitely a good side, but, we just played to our strengths today,” said Darien shutout goalkeeper Jack Fisher (eight saves). “I know New Canaan got unlucky with a couple of injuries, and it got a little chippy there.

“That’s soccer. And that’s the playoffs.”

Ben Highton and Marcus Iqbal scored one apiece.

“(Now) you’ve got to go and play a team that hasn’t lost a game,” Bradley said. “So we’ll get our kit on and go play again.”

McMullin scored for 1-0 firing from the right on the rush with 23:37 on the clock in the first half. It came after he went to goal and was stopped, just, only moments before.

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Jack Fisher up for a save in traffic at Dunning today. (Darien Times/Steven Buono photo)

New Canaan came the closest to scoring cranking one off the cross bar, upper right corner of the cage with 17:00 to go in the first.

McMullin broke down the front to score for a 2-0 lead with 37:04 to play in the second half.

Ten minutes later Highton made it 3-0 on a nifty header standing in front.

And Iqbal put Darien up 4-0, rushing down the right side and being chopped down by a tackle as he was putting boot to the ball with 21 minutes to go.

Jeff Sload (two saves) came in to spell Fisher in the closing minutes and earned a share of the latter’s shutout making a big save from point blank range on his right, sprawling to make the stop.

Fisher, for his part, kept his net empty coming out to steal a loose ball in the crease earlier in the second half, as well as made another two stops on dangerous bids in the stanza.

Darien put 12 shots on goal.

“We played very well,” Bradley said. “Good performances out there. I think we totally dominated that game, from start to finish.”

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Graham Helgans (right) ahead on the rush with Jonathan Gill (No. 7) trailing the play. (Darien Times/Steven Buono photo)

That they did. When Darien wasn’t advancing the ball itself, the Wave would be kicking it back into New Canaan’s faces time and again in breaking up the Rams’ rush.

“They were on their heels early and we could tell that,” Fisher said. “So we just kept on trying to pump it up, and by the second half, they were trying to just pump balls up.

“But if we close down their defense it’s impossible to do.”

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Jeff Sload came in and helped keep the shutout. (Darien Times/Steven Buono photo)

Darien was maybe a little surprised by the blowout? The Wave might have been just as surprised by the win.

“We didn’t go into this game thinking necessarily that we were going to win,” said Fisher. “We were the underdog’s so the pressure wasn’t on us. Which is definitely something good.”

And that idea could go a long way when the Wave (9-7-1) meets 12-0-3 Barlow.

“Once you start putting your heart in it — it could have been our last game,” Fisher said. “And I’ve got friends on that team, that it’s their last high school game.”

Hopefully it won’t be Branca’s.

“When it comes to Brennan, he’s taken hard hits and walked away from them all season long,” Fisher said. “It’s almost like Achilles (heel) with Brennan: he gets hit as hard as he can be — but of course, you go down on an ankle.”

And hopefully, any damage to Branca won’t prove the Wave’s Achilles’ heel.

Bradley was not immediately optimistic about getting him back for Sunday.

Never-say-die Fisher was hopeful that he would.

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Darien Times Sports Editor since 2000

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