FAIRFIELD -- In a pulse-pounding Game 4 in the FCIAC semifinals, the Staples girls volleyball team had six opportunities to seal its trip to the FCIAC title game, but six times Darien answered back before taking a one-point lead and threatening to force a Game 5 at Fairfield Ludlowe High School Monday night.

The Wreckers needed to come up with a rally of their own, and they did so by capturing the match's final three points, ending Darien's 12-year reign at the top of the FCIAC with a 3-1 (25-21, 25-18, 21-25, 29-27) victory.

"We knew that something like 29-27 was going to happen," Staples' captain Lauren Mushro said. "We faced them in the regular season and took them to five and we won, and we hadn't won against them in 15 or 20 years, so this is a tremendous win for our team."

The nail-biting victory put No. 2 Staples (19-1) into Saturday's FCIAC championship tilt against No. 1 Greenwich (19-1), which won a wild game of its own, 3-2 over No. 4 Fairfield Ludlowe (17-3) on Wednesday.

No. 3 Darien (17-3) saw its long run at the top come to a close, though it will be back in action for the Class LL state tournament with a chance to defend that title.

"We had our highs and lows, but in the end we ended up staying focused, pushing through and doing what we needed to do," Brackett said. "You just have to hang in there and stay focused until the end, and I think that's what we did."

After the Blue Wave's incredible rally to knot Game 4 at 25-25, they actually had two match points of their own after taking leads of 26-25 and 27-26, but three straight points from the Wreckers finally dethroned the 12-time defending FCIAC champs.

"Give Darien credit," Staples coach Jon Shepro said. "We were making some bad passes and they were making the hits when they counted, but for my team to be able to give up those six points and then come back and continue to fight shows our fortitude."

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For all the fireworks of Game 4, it wouldn't have even been necessary if not for Darien's ability to take control in Game 3, building their match-high eight-point lead at 22-16. Strong net play by Claire Naughton (12 kills, five aces, 1 block and six service points) helped Darien hang on for the 25-21 win, cutting the Staples overall lead to 2-1.

With the support of a raucous student section in Game 1, Staples stormed out of the blocks, building a 19-11 advantage thanks to strong play from Brackett, Mushro and Knox Schieffelin, among others, and the Wreckers held on for a 25-21 match-opening win.

Game 2 followed suit, as Darien could never take the lead, despite pulling even at 10-10 ,11-11 and 12-12. Behind a few thunderous spikes from Mushro, the Wreckers went on a match-ending 7-1 run to turn an 18-17 lead into a 25-18 win.

"We've been working on getting the students to come the whole week. We love them; they're really into it," Mushro said. "(Greenwich is) a very competitive team too. They're just like Darien. They're just as competitive and we're going to be practicing all week."

jchik@bcnnew.com; Twitter: @jchik17


DARIEN 21 18 25 27--1

STAPLES 25 25 21 29--3

Records: Darien 18-3, 17-3 FCIAC; Staples 19-1, 19-1 FCIAC. Highlights: D--Isabelle Taylor had 15 kills, 13 digs, seven service points and one block. Claire Naughton had 12 kills, seven service points, five aces and one block. Celia Martzolf had 31 assists, five service points, two kills and two aces. S--Amelia Brackett had 21 kills, 11 digs, five service points and one ace. Arianna Sherman had 36 assists, four service points, two digs and one ace. Lauren Mushro had 18 kills, nine digs, four service points and an ace.