Darien falls to Farmington in first round of State Tourney

In low-scoring basketball games, every bucket is at a premium, and that especially holds true in a single elimination playoff game.

In Tuesday night's first round Class L girls basketball tournament clash at Darien High School, Farmington made several clutch buckets late in the fourth quarter to claim a 42-29 victory over Darien.

With the win, Farmington advanced into the second round of the tournament to take on No. 2 Pomperaug (18-2), which had a first-round bye. The tip-off is slated for tonight at 7 p.m. at Pomperaug High School.

"It's a great win for us. We played pretty bad in the first half, but it was a good learning experience that we have to come out strong, and we took care of it in the second half," Farmington's lone senior Ugne Vaiciulyte said. "I think we saw how the State Tournament is and what the intensity level has to be."

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Nursing a 30-27 lead midway through the final stanza, No. 18 Farmington (12-9) closed the game with a 12-2 run on the strength of timely free throw shooting and solid team defense.

No. 15 Darien (12-9), which trailed by as many as 10 points after starting the game in an 11-1 hole, was unable to get many of its shots to fall in the game's waning minutes, resulting in the double-digit margin of victory for the Indians. Farmington's Ally Walsh, who scored a game-high 11 points, netted the first four of the contest on a pair of layups.

"We definitely made progress this season, and I think Darien has a great team next year, and I think they'll just keep building it up and making it further each year," Darien senior Leslie Yuen said. "I just think [Farmington] came out a little harder than we did, but we eventually picked it up and fought hard."

Darien's Emily Stein got her team back into the game by dropping seven of her team-high 10 points in the first half. Just prior to the halftime buzzer, Darien's Kate Bushell notched a bucket to pull her team even for the first time at 14-14.

"We played really hard. It's sort of a bummer to go out like this, but I'm really thankful to have played on this team," Darien senior Susan Biggart said. "My freshman year we won three games and here we are in the first round of States and qualifying for FCIACs, so it says a lot for where the program is headed."

In the third quarter, the speed of play quickened considerably and Darien took its first lead at 17-14 on a 3 by Stein, who opened the scoring in the second half. After Farmington regained the lead at 20-19 on a basket by Brittany Belisle, Darien's Meg Marren dropped a layup to give the Blue Wave a 21-20 advantage, which also turned out to be its last lead of the season. Farmington closed the quarter on a 5-0 run to take a 25-21 lead into the fourth.

"The program is on the rise. We've got talent in the building and we've got more talent coming. It's disappointing to lose in the first game of FCIACs and States two years in a row, but we gave it all we had," Darien coach Gary Peterson said. "My girls always play hard, and I give [Farmington] a lot of credit too. [The seniors] we're solid for us, and we're definitely going to miss them."

With another road contest at Pomperaug on the horizon, Farmington coach Russ Crist is well aware of what his team is up against.

"I thought we played really well in spurts, and I thought [Darien] played really well in spurts. We edged them by a couple minutes at the end there," Crist said. "I know we're going to a tough place to play against a really good opponent in Pomperaug. They're 18-2 for a reason, so we've got to give them our best shot."

Although its season came to a close on its home court, Darien's rapid transformation from an FCIAC afterthought into a serious contender over the past two seasons was not lost on any of its departing seniors.

"It's tough, obviously, when it's a tie game and you feel so in it and at the end it kind of slips away. There can't be enough said for everybody who was out on the court tonight; not just us three [seniors], but all the underclassmen because they worked so hard all season," Darien senior Amy Biggart said. "It's a bummer we couldn't make it farther for them, but they are going to be back next year and they're going to be strong."