Darien girls basketball tops New Canaan in battle of rivals
Offense was at a premium for much of the first half of Thursday’s girls basketball rivalry game between the New Canaan Rams and Darien Blue Wave.
Then, Darien’s Hailey King and Gwen Dolce hit three-pointers in the final two minutes before halftime, starting what would eventually amount to a 15-3 run which gave the Wave control of the game en route to an important 42-30 victory at NCHS.
While admittedly not a text book game, the win did keep the Wave in the hunt for an FCIAC playoff spot, as they improved to 9-9 overall and 8-7 in the league.
“It was really important for us to win out for the rest of the season because that’s the only way we’re going to make FCIACs,” Darien senior co-captain Katie Ramsay said. “So we had to pick up the intensity really fast or else that goal of ours would not be possible.”
New Canaan (3-14 overall, 2-12 FCIAC) played hard, especially on the defensive side, but as been the case in many of their games, scoring was difficult to come by.
“If you look at all our box scores, it’s low-scoring games, so that means we’re playing great defense,” Rams head coach John Winchester said. “When you’re trying to turn a whole program around, (defense is) the easiest part to turn around. It’s important and we’ve been doing that. So what I’ve been telling them is they’ve got to put the ball in the basket. When we have open lay-ups, you’ve got to make them.”
Ramsay led the Wave with a game-high 17 points, while New Canaan’s defense managed to hold the rest of the Darien offense in check. Sophomore Lindsay Dimonekas was next with five points and senior co-captain Christine Fiore, who was a force for the defense, was held to four points — all from the free throw line.
For New Canaan, junior Caity Blair came off the bench and provided a spark, leading the Rams with 10 points. Sophomore Riana Afshar scored five, and senior co-captain Leigh Charlton and junior Emily Shizari scored four each.
Neither team could find its scoring touch during the first half, as Darien led 5-4 after one quarter before the lead seesawed between the rivals for much of the second frame.
“We just weren’t making shots,” Darien head coach Melba Chambers said. “We were missing way too many shots, lay-ups, everything. Most of our shots are in the paint, and we were shooting 5-for-20 at halftime. If you can’t score, it’s hard to win. So we just emphasized that we had to locate the rim and take our time. Attack, be aggressive, and make the easy shots.”
With the Wave holding a 13-12 advantage, King, a senior co-captain, drained a three-pointer from the corner and, the next trip down, the sophomore Dolce nailed another three to give Darien some cushion at 19-12.
“That was pretty big momentum,” Ramsay said. “We had a couple of fast breaks and then Hailey hit a three and Gwen hit a three and that put us ahead seven points before the half. Even though we were disappointed with how we were playing, that momentum helped us keep going into the second half.”
New Canaan closed the gap to five points at 20-15 early in the third, but Dimonekas hit a three-pointer, Fiore sank one of two free throws, and Ramsay scored back-to-back buckets for an 8-0 run and a 28-15 lead.
The outburst stemmed from the defensive performance of the Wave, which started to convert on a few forced turnovers.
“We were able to get a lot of steals,” Ramsay said. “They were playing a lot from the outside and that’s where we were able to kind of jump in and get those, and we had a lot of fast breaks. The best offense is your defense.”
“We were just being disciplined,” Chambers said. “We have a very good defense and that dictates how hard we play. When our defense is on point, it makes the game a lot better. When we’re disciplined, we stay on our feet and we’re not going for every fake, it makes it lot easier.”
The Wave led 31-17 late in the third quarter, when the Rams’ Blair hit back-to-back threes — one to end the third and another to open the fourth — and closed the gap to 31-23.
“Caity Blair can put it in the basket,” Winchester said. “Now we just have to work on the other side. You can’t make two and then give up two. She played a great game. She’s been here early, getting up shots after practice, and she’s putting the time in.”
Darien had the better of play the rest of the way and closed out the 12-point win.
New Canaan is reaching the end of the line, with games at Ridgefield and home against St. Joseph and McMahon to close out the season next week.
“I love how hard they play, I just wish they could get one more win,” Winchester said. “We’ve played everybody even for three quarters and probably just one quarter, we’ve been outscored. I’m just upset that we lost, but I’m not upset with the effort and how hard that they’ve played.”
For Darien, only a non-league game against Harding and a conference game against Westhill remain on the slate before a trip to the postseason. The key for the Wave could be consistency, as they’ve had strong performances against some big teams, and a few they’d like to have back.
“That’s what I keep preaching to them: We have to be consistent,” Chambers said. “Every day in practice, they approach practice like a game. When we practice harder, the games are easier. So down the stretch, we have to be consistent and have that killer instinct. I don’t care who we’re playing — the top of the league or the bottom of the league — we have to play everybody as hard as we can.”
Darien 42, New Canaan 30
Thursday, Feb. 8, at NCHS
Darien 5-14-12-11 42
New Canaan 4-8-8-10 30
Darien: Kelly Richter 1 1-2 4, Gwen Dolce 1 0-0 3, Lindsay Dimonekas 2 0-0 5, Caroline Krueger 0 2-4 2, Katie Ramsay 8 1-2 17, Christine Fiore 0 4-8 4, Rachel Stobbie 1 0-0 2, Hailey King 1 0-0 3, Hassanna Arbubakrr 1 0-0 2, Emma Blenke 0 0-1 0. Totals 15 8-16 42
New Canaan: Emily Shizari 2 0-2 4, Maeve Selvaggi 1 1-2 3, Riana Afshar 2 0-0 5, Leigh Charlton 2 0-0 4, Quinn McKiernan 0 0-0 0, Eliza Pohle 0 0-0 0, Jane Charlton 2 0-3 4, Caity Blair 4 0-0 10, Liz DeMarino 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 1-7 30
3-pointers: Darien - Richter, Dolce, Dimonekas, King; New Canaan - Blair 2, Afshar