The Darien Blue Wave has finished atop the FCIAC boys lacrosse mountain for five years running now, but few, if any, of the previous victories were as thrilling as the latest championship game.
New Canaan rallied from a four-goal deficit to tie Darien with 6:57 remaining, before Hudson Pokorny answered with the final tally, and the Blue Wave held on for a 13-12 victory Friday at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field.
It was a riveting game, and one which none of the players will soon forget.
“This was a great lacrosse game,” New Canaan head coach Chip Buzzeo said. “This is what championship games should be. They should be one-goal games and we haven’t had many championship games that have been one-goal games in the last couple of years in lacrosse. This was a special game and I think both communities can take great pride in how well all the boys on the field played today.”
“It just shows character and the ability to hang tough when the chips are down and things are going awry,” Darien head coach Jeff Brameier said. “We had established leads and they fought back with some great goals and some funky goals. In the second half, we had separation again and they came right back. It was just a great lacrosse game.”
It was the fifth consecutive FCIAC championship for the Wave, which hasn’t lost a playoff game since the 2013 Class M quarterfinals — a postseason win streak spanning 31 games. Darien also pushed its overall win streak to 73 games.
“It’s awesome,” Darien senior co-captain Brian Minicus said. “Whenever we play New Canaan it’s going to be a close game, we know that. So we’ve got to come out with our ‘A’ game and we did that today and so did they.”
“It’s the tradition — kids don’t want to be the one that doesn’t keep it going,” Brameier said of the streak. “They’ve been able to rise to the occasion, keep the streak going, and hopefully we’ve got four more in us (for the state tournament).”
New Canaan had its last lead at 3-2 early in the second quarter, and the Blue Wave tied it a minute later and gained the advantage with 5:54 remaining in the first half. Every time Darien appeared ready to run away with it, however, the Rams came storming back.
“We just believe in each other,” New Canaan’s Quintin O’Connell said. “Once we won states last year, the next day was all about the next year and this team. We’ve had faith in each other the whole year — not just on the field but outside. We’re all best friends, we all hang out, so it’s that inner trust that we hold for each other than helps us have the resilience to fight back.”
“It was a game of momentum,” Minicus said. “They captured that in the fourth quarter and at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth, we had a few straight. They answered and we knew that was going to happen. It was an awesome game to play in.”
Darien’s attack featured five players with multiple goals, as Logan McGovern and Pokorny had hat tricks, and Minicus, Henri Pfeifle, and Jackson Peters had two apiece. Tanner Strub scored one goal, winning a faceoff and then spinning and crashing his way through the Rams’ defense for the score.
“Offensively, I thought we were doing fine we just didn’t have the ball enough,” Brameier said. “When we had the ball we were certainly capable of scoring and Logan was a dynamo, he’s starting to get healthy again, and he created a lot for us. Everybody created and there were some great plays out there.”
For New Canaan, O’Connell racked up a game-high six points on four goals and two assists, while Owen Shin had an hat trick and Mac Deane and Ryan Caione had two goals apiece. Liam Griffiths also found the net once.
The Rams’ Nick Crovatto was exceptional on faceoffs, as he and Justin Wietfeldt won about three-quarters against Strub.
On the defensive side, both goalies came up with some great plays. Carl Mazabras made 11 saves for New Canaan, and Sean Collins had eight saves for Darien.
After a 2-2 first quarter, New Canaan went in front on a goal by O’Connell, but Darien came back with five straight goals from five different players to take a 7-3 lead.
The Rams answered with a 3-0 run to close the gap to 7-6 at halftime.
The final goal of that run was a wild one, as O’Connell had the ball and was knocked to the turf in the closing seconds. While laying on his side and facing away from the net, he whipped the stick around and sent a billiard shot into traffic, where it was redirected by Caione into the Darien net as the horn sound.
The Wave regained the momentum with a 3-1 run in the third quarter, as McGovern, Peters and Pokorny all scored. Deane had the Rams’ first goal of the third, and Caione tallied late, but Darien had a 10-8 lead going to the final frame.
When Minicus and Strub started the fourth quarter with back-to-back goals, the Wave seemed to be in command at 12-8 with 10:50 remaining.
O’Connell jump-started New Canaan with a goal with 9:45 to play, and Shin scored to make it 12-10 just 28 seconds later.
O’Connell weaved his way through the Wave defense and scored his fourth goal to close the gap to one, and Shin made a couple of quick moves past a defender and netted the equalizer with 6:57 remaining.
Both teams had chances to take the lead, and the Wave’s Pokorny scored the go-ahead goal when he scooped up a ground ball during a wild scramble, raced around the net, and beat Mazabras low with 4:50 on the clock.
New Canaan’s final chance at the net came in the final seconds when the ball ended up in the stick of long pole Walker Ker. He put his shot on goal, but Collins blocked it as time expired.
“Unfortunately, I turned it over, but I know Sean will back me up,” Minicus said. “It’s really hard for a goalie to stop a six-foot pole shot, but he did a great job on that.
“We’ve told these guys all year long to never give up,” Buzzeo said. “We don’t think a four- or five-goal lead is anything that we can’t come back from. Our guys were confident, we were saying in the huddle that we could come back, and we did. We just couldn’t put one more in at the end there.”
Now the two rivals will head to the CIAC Class L tournament and a possible third meeting should they both reach the semifinals. Last year, Darien won the Class L title and New Canaan won Class M.
“We’d like to see them right now, tomorrow, and the next day,” O’Connell said about possibly playing Darien again. “We’ll see them again and we’ll be ready to play again.”
“Getting five straight is what we’ve been working for and we’re just hungry for the next one, too,” Minicus said. “We’ve got a couple of days to relax and get prepared, and then we’ll be right back at it. We expect to see (New Canaan) again.”
FCIAC Boys Lacrosse Final – Darien 13, New Canaan 12
Fri., May 25, at Brien McMahon HS
New Canaan 2-3-3-4 12
Darien 2-4-4-3 13
New Canaan: Ryan O’Connell 4g; Owen Shin 3g; Mac Deane 2g; Ryan Caione 2g; Liam Griffiths 1g
Darien: Logan McGovern 4g; Hudson Pokorny 3g; Henri Pfeifle 2g; Jackson Peters 2g; Brian Minicus 1g; Tanner Strub 1g
NC – Carl Mazabras 11 saves
D – Sean Collins 8 saves