The Darien boys lacrosse team came into Tuesday's FCIAC semifinal against Wilton averaging almost 19 goals in its previous five games, but anyone who expected the Blue Wave to have an easy time with the Warriors was sadly mistaken.
Held to its lowest goal total against a state opponent this season, the Blue Wave fought off a challenge from the determined Warriors before advancing to Friday's final with a 9-6 victory at McMahon's Jack Casagrande Field.
"We don't come here to cower and walk away," Wilton coach John Wiseman said. "We're not scared of the Wave. These kids come to play. That's what you do. It's fun playing under the lights."
In the championship game, Darien (16-2) will face Ridgefield, a 10-5 winner over Greenwich in Tuesday's first semifinal. Last week, the Blue Wave defeated the Tigers 17-10 in their final regular-season game.
Richard Gregory had three goals for the Blue Wave on Tuesday while Bobby Weaver and Ben Preston each chipped in with a pair. Darien's other goals were registered by Graham Maybell and Case Matheis.
Tuesday also was Darien's closest margin of victory against an in-state opponent this year. On Saturday, the Blue Wave drubbed Fairfield Ludlowe 17-1 in the FCIAC quarterfinals.
"Everybody wants to slow it down against us," Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. "We're happy with a settled offense. Our old adage was run and gun. That's really not us anymore.
"I mean, we can run and gun, but we really like to get the ball in our offensive half and play six-on-six. We have six kids who are tough to cover in one-on-one. We create matchup problems. All the kids share the ball and all the kids can shoot."
Wilton goaltender Sam Sommers kept the Warriors in the game with 12 saves in another strong effort.
"Same made some great saves," Wiseman said. "He's been having a hell of a year and he's been great down the stetch. I think he's the best goalie in the state. I'm biased, obviously, but he is (the best)."
However, the Blue Wave did an excellent job shutting down Mike Francia, Wilton's top offensive threat who was shadowed all night by Maryland-bound defender Eric Parnon, an all-American. Francia was held scoreless.
"Mikey's one of the top two attackmen in the state, him and Case," Brameier added. "Certainly, you're aware of him, he can put up points.
"But we have the best defenseman on him and we have two of the top defensemen in the state playing the other guys. That's our MO. We have some of the best defensive players in the state. It showed tonight. They really didn't give up settled goals."
The Blue Wave did get off to a bit of a slow start and never really put away the Warriors.
The contest was scoreless until Wilton's Michael Serpa registered the first goal with 4:53 left in the first period. Weaver and Gregory scored in a 27-second span to give Darien a 2-1 lead after the first quarter.
Wilton (12-6) continued to play the Blue Wave tough in the second period as goals by Serpa and Henry West pulled the Warriors within 4-3 with 3:46 left in the half. Gregory scored his third of the half 32 seconds later to make it 5-3 at the half.
Three goals -- by Preston and a shorthanded tally my Matheis - in a 2:04 span expanded Darien's lead to 8-3 with just over eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Still, the Warriors allowed only one goal over the final 20 minutes. Connor Melillo, Michael Greco and Matt Reyes Guerra Dunn tallied Wilton's final three markers.
Wiseman has no doubt the teams will meet up again in the state tournament, as they so often do.
"We'll see them again," he said. "That the reality of it. They played good, solid disciplined lacrosse, to their credit, but we made some mental errors. We had two opens shots. Put those in, it's a different ballgame. That's what it's all about, minimizing those errors."
While Darien has won six consecutive state championships, it has not won an FCIAC crown since 2008.