WETHERSFIELD -- It wasn't easy, but Darien High School's field hockey team retained its hold on the Class M state title for the fourth straight year. The top-seeded and unbeaten Blue Wave nipped No. 8 Hand of Madison 3-2 at Wethersfield High School on Saturday afternoon.

The Blue Wave, after applying pressure on Hand goaltender Marisa McCann throughout most of the first half, managed only a 1-0 lead at the halftime intermission. The Hand Tigers scored on their first shot of the game, 1:06 into the second half, to even the score. The Wave got the next two tallies, then held off the Tigers to celebrate a nail-biting win.

Senior Ellie Riegal, one of 13 final-year players on the Wave roster, netted both second-half goals, and Leslie Gill, another in that senior core, also scored.

The Wave team members certainly have gotten used to winning, and the seniors no nothing other than pinnacle game success at the state level. But it never gets old.

"It gets better and better every year," Riegal said.

Darien took a 1-0 lead with 21:21 to play in the opening 30 minutes when senior Madeline Gill assisted her twin sister, Leslie Gill. DHS held decisive 12-0 and 7-0 advantages in shots on goal and penalty corners at the break but found itself nursing the slimmest of leads.

Hannah Morgan scored for Hand early in the second half before Darien, again, seized control. The Wave answered for a 2-1 lead with 24:35 to play when Riegal scored her first goal off a penalty corner.

DHS continued to pepper Hand's goalie with shots. Alex Iqbal sent a long lead pass to Leslie Gill, who got behind the Hand defenders, but couldn't finish the play thanks to a McCann save, one of 25 on 33 DHS shots when all was said and done. Riegal, Madeline Gill and Hollis Perticone were all stopped on clean shots as the Wave couldn't build on its lead for most of the second half. Finally, with 9:03 to play, Riegal deposited a long shot from straight on for a 3-1 cushion. That insurance tally proved to be the difference.

"It was huge. It's always great, especially under high pressure, to go up two goals," Darien coach Mo Minicus said.

Hand got to within 3-2 on goal off a scramble in front. Darien goalie Perrin Brown made three saves as Hand mustered six shots by the game's end. Victory is especially sweet when it takes a lot of work to accomplish the win. J

ust ask Minicus.

"It feels great. It's great to win a game like this when you really earn it -- you fight for it," the coach said. "We had to work for every goal."

It was a Class M plaque that didn't come easily to Darien, which entered having allowed just seven goals all season and having won its first three Class M crowns by a combined score of 24-2.

The Blue Wave offense was relentless, thanks in part to 13 penalty corners.

"It feels great because Daniel Hand -- they were a very strong team, not only physically but skillfully. That was a test for us," Iqbal said.

The Wave had solid defensive play from, among others, Sophie Doering, Kate Morant and Perticone, who helped keep the ball on Hand's side of the field for most of the afternoon by thwarting Hand transitions near the center line. Despite the bulk of the play at Darien's offensive end, the game was a tense one thanks, mainly, to McCann's goaltending.

"It was very high pressure and they really kept us on our toes but we stayed calm," Riegal said.

The Wave had to battle through the semifinal round, and Minicus believed that experience benefitted her team, which for most of the year, dominated opposing team's day in and day out.

"They had to step up to the pressure and there was a lot of pressure. It was a good game," the DHS coach said.

Darien's seniors are as familiar as it gets with winning state titles, but DHS has some newcomers in the mix this fall. Among them is Perticone, only a freshman.

"It feels really great. I'm happy for all of the seniors," Perticone said. "I'm just happy I can be a part of it."

It was a Class M plaque that didn't come easily to Darien, which entered having allowed just seven goals all season and having won its first three Class M crowns by a combined score of 24-2.

As Sam Johnston looked at the scoreboard at Wethersfield High's Cottone Field that read Darien 3, Daniel Hand 2, only one thought screamed in her brain.

"This is the longest five minutes of my life," Johnston recounted. "The last 30 seconds never seemed to end. I wanted so badly to hear that final horn."

Well, the horn and the conclusion of Darien's 3-2 triumph in Saturday's Class M state championship finally came, giving Johnston and company the ultimate gift.

"It's unbelievable. Four straight state titles," Johnston said. "It's a great ending to an amazing four years. Darien field hockey is a family. Great players. Great coaches. Everybody was so determined. We were ready to accomplish this."

The magical adventure that is Darien field hockey added yet another chapter Saturday.

-- Rich DePreta contributed to this story.