The 17 seniors on the Darien Blue Wave boys lacrosse team will graduate from the high school never having lost a game on their home turf. The Wilton Warriors made sure the last victory wasn’t an easy one.
In a game filled with thrills, spills and plenty of momentum shifts, Darien kept its bid for a fifth consecutive state championship alive with a wild 11-10 win over Wilton in the CIAC Class L quarterfinals Saturday at DHS.
The Wave had seemingly put the game out of reach when they went ahead 11-6 with 4:56 remaining, but the Warriors answered with a final run, scoring four straight goals to close the gap to one with 1:30 on the clock.
Wilton’s Chris Sweeney was dominant on faceoffs, but Darien’s Tanner Strub won the final battle, allowing the Wave to gain possession and, with the help of a couple of flags, run out the clock to get the win.
“There was a lot of heart showed by them, being down by five goals in the fourth quarter,” Darien senior co-captain Logan McGovern said of Wilton. “They battled back, won some faceoffs and won the ground balls they needed. Wilton was just gritty. But in the end, Strub got the one that mattered and we ran out the clock there.”
“Just come in and fight and scrap, and we did,” Wilton head coach John Wiseman said. “We won the ground balls, we were pretty much 50-50 on ground balls, 50-50 on faceoffs, and we outshot them. So we possessed the ball and we did what we wanted to do. We fought.”
The victory puts No. 1 Darien (21-0) in the Class L semifinals opposite No. 4 New Canaan (16-5) on Wednesday, May 6, at a time and site to be announced Monday. The Wave has beaten the Rams twice this season, but both games were close: 9-7 during the regular season and 13-12 in the FCIAC final on May 25.
The No. 8 Warriors (13-7) showed just how tough it can be to beat a team three times in a season. Darien won the first two meetings — 12-8 during the regular season and 17-5 in the FCIAC semis — but Wilton nearly knocked off the Wave on Saturday.
“It’s so hard for kids to beat a good team three times and they’re a good team,” Darien head coach Jeff Brameier said. “They’re one of the top five teams in the state and they’ve got a lot of good players.
“They were a driven Wilton team that obviously just didn’t want to go down. You’ve got to tip your cap to any team that plays like that. They’ve got talent. But to our credit, we were able to hold on and survive.”
McGovern was the quarterback of Darien’s offensive attack, and collected five points on three goals and two assists. Jack Joyce added a hat trick; Brian Minicus had a goal and two assists; and Hudson Pokorny scored twice. Long pole Matt Gould and Henri Pfeifle each had one goal.
For the Warriors, Nolan Quinn had a hat trick; and Brian Calabrese and Zach Zeyher each scored twice, with Calabrese also dishing out one assist. Joe Murtha, Ryan McDermott and Dean DiNanno had a goal and an assist apiece.
Both goalies had big games, as Darien’s Sean Collins made 12 saves, and Wilton’s Andrew Calabrese made 15 saves.
Both teams knew what to expect coming in, as each is a battle-tested FCIAC squad.
“FCIAC teams are always a great game,” McGovern said. “These are some of the best teams in the country, and this is one of the best counties in the country for lacrosse. We had to see them early, here in the quarters, and we knew it was going to be a battle. We feel lucky to come out on top.”
Murtha scored the game’s first goal early in the opening quarter, but the Blue Wave scored four of the next five and carried a 4-2 lead into the second frame.
A goal by Pokorny, assisted by McGovern, just 45 seconds in the second quarter made it 5-2, but Wilton answered with goals from Zeyher and DiNanno to cut the deficit to one at 5-4.
Darien’s Gould and Wilton’s Quinn then traded goals to make it 6-5 in favor of the Wave at halftime.
Darien was on the verge of putting the game out of reach in the second half. Pfeifle, Minicus and McGovern scored consecutive goals to make it 9-5 and, after McDermott ended the third quarter with a Warriors’ goal, Joyce netted two to give Darien a five-goal lead with under five minutes to play.
Wilton, however, didn’t pack it in. Quinn scored with 3:30 on the clock, starting a 4-0 run which closed the gap to one.
Throughout the run, and the game, Sweeney provided plenty of spark for Wilton at the faceoff X.
“He was great, he’s been great all year and he had a great four quarters,” Wiseman said. “They pulled away a little bit in the third quarter and then in the fourth quarter, we came back. Everybody fought and they played hard. Sweeney was great, but around the field, it took everybody.”
Calabrese scored with 2:27 remaining, Quinn followed with another goal 23 seconds later, and Calabrese scored again with 1:30 to play, as Darien’s lead dwindled to one goal.
Strub, however, won the ensuing faceoff and Wilton never got another shot at the tying goal.
“We came out in the second half and played and got some separation and fortunately, we got enough to hold on by the skin of our teeth and pull out a one-goal win,” Brameier said.
“We’re the last team to ever beat Darien in championship play — 7-6 on this field in 2013,” Wiseman said. “That was part of the narrative and we almost did it again today, but they’re a tough team. They’ve been tested and pushed from New Canaan to us and others, so hats off to them. They did what they had to do and they’re a tough team.”
CIAC Class L Quarterfinals – Darien 11, Wilton 10
Saturday, June 2, at Darien HS
Wilton 2-3-1-4 10
Darien 4-2-3-2 11
Wilton: Nolan Quinn 3g; Brian Calabrese 2g, 1a; Zach Zeyher 2g; Joe Murtha 1g, 1a; Ryan McDermott 1g, 1a; Dean DiNanno 1g, 1a; Joe Scarfi 1a
Darien: Logan McGovern 3g, 2a; Jack Joyce 3g; Brian Minicus 1g, 2a; Hudson Pokorny 2g; Matt Gould 1g; Henri Pfeifle 1g
W – Andrew Calabrese 15 saves
D – Sean Collins 12 saves