Heartbreaker: Darien field hockey falls to Staples, 2-1, in OT of Class L semis
The finality of losing in the state tournament is difficult enough. When that loss comes in overtime, on a penalty stroke, no less, it takes the heartbreak to a different level.
The Darien field hockey team had its season come to an end when Staples’ Kyle Kirby scored on a penalty stroke 1:20 into overtime, giving the Wreckers a 2-1 victory in the CIAC Class L semifinals Tuesday at Brien McMahon’s Jack Casagrande Field.
Darien, the No. 6 seed, finished with a record of 18-3-1-0 and had an unbeaten streak of 17 games come to an end. The Wave had been 16-0-1-0 since a 2-2 start before Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s tough,” Darien head coach Mo Minicus said. “It’s sports. We had the ball down here and then they had a really quick transition and moved the ball and caught us defensively. It’s tough to end on a stroke.”
For Kirby, being in the overtime spotlight added to the drama of the penalty stroke.
“There’s definitely more tension in overtime, especially since it’s sudden death,” Kirby said. “You make it and you go home as a winner, and if you don’t you have to keep playing. We’ve had our fair share of those in FCIACs and states, so it was nice to have our chance for a stroke.”
No. 2 Staples (21-1-0-0) will now face No. 1 Cheshire (19-0-0-0) in the final in Wethersfield on Saturday at a time to be determined. Cheshire edged Newtown 3-2 in overtime in Tuesday’s other semifinal game.
Staples head coach Ian Tapsall said the two rivals bring out the best in each other. In their last eight meetings, six have been decided by one goal and the other two were ties.
“We play better against Darien and I think Darien plays better against us because we have a lot more respect for each other,” Tapsall said. “Everybody on both teams is college level. There’s a little more sophisticated play which is the the college-like play we try to coach. These girls are good at doing with it and when we play against each other, you see the best of what these girls have to offer.”
The Wreckers had the clear advantage during the first 15 minutes, cashing in when Kirby scored at the 7:21 mark. The goal came during the second of two consecutive penalty corners, after Darien’s Katie Elders batted away a high initial attempt. Kirby got to the ball in the ensuing scrum and scored.
Other than that, the Wave defense, which featured goalie Monisha Akula (8 saves), along with Elders, Emily Schwartzman, Lily Kulesz, Tala Garcia and Lindsey Olson, was nearly unbreakable.
After Akula made a couple of early kick saves to thwart a pair of Wrecker attacks shortly after halftime, Darien had the better of play for much of the second half.
Bridget Mahoney, Shea van den Broek and Molly Hellman helped lead the offense, which eventually netted the equalizer on a beautiful transition goal with 17:31 remaining
Darien beat the Staples defense down the field and Hellman set up Elders for a goal in the center of the circle to make it a 1-1 game.
“That was gorgeous,” Minicus said. “We moved more offensively since we were losing and it worked. We just couldn’t put another one in.”
The Wave kept up the pressure throughout the second half, but Staples’ defense, led by goalie Bridget Mulloy (4 saves) and backs Grace Cooper, Hannah Paprotna and Maisie Dembski, held off the attack
After an initial push by the Wave in overtime, the Wreckers turned the tide and earned a stroke when a Darien player blocked the ball just before it crossed the goal line.
“Kyle is always the one to take it.,” Tapsall said of the stroke. “We actually did practices yesterday and she missed two. So we went out and practiced again and she started nailing them. Normally she doesn’t miss and I know she’s going to put it in exactly the same place every time and she’ll score.”
Kirby’s shot was true, setting off a Staples’ celebration.
“We definitely played our hearts out, made sure to get the ball in the circle and kept pounding and pounding,” Kirby said. “That’s definitely a big part of our style of play. We keep going until we can’t anymore.”
With her team’s season now in the books, Minicus had a clear message for her players, one that could have applied to the Wreckers had the result been reversed.
“It’s a hard thing,” Minicus said. “Unless you win everything, you’re always ending your season with a loss. Don’t let that define your season.”
Class L Field Hockey Semifinals - Staples 2, Darien 1 (OT)
Darien 0-1-0 1
Staples 1-0-1 2
Darien: Katie Elders 1g; Molly Hellman 1a
Staples: Kyle Kirby 2g
D - Monisha Akula 8 saves
S - Bridget Mulloy 4 saves