FAIRFIELD — The momentum was squarely on the side of the Ludlowe Falcons.
After dropping the first two sets of the match to perennial CIAC and FCIAC power Darien, Ludlowe had rallied to square things at two sets apiece and set the stage for a winner-take-all fifth and final set.
And thanks to an energy level registering at a fever pitch coming from the boisterous Falcons’ student section, the Ludlowe gym was ready to explode.
But Darien hasn’t won 17 state championships and another 22 conference titles by backing down when someone pushes them against the wall. The Blue Wave rallied – like they always seem to do in crunch time – and held off a valiant Ludlowe team in five sets Friday afternoon.
Scores were: 26-24, 25-21, 23-25, 19-25, 16-14.
“Ludlowe is a very good team, we knew that coming in, but our kids pulled together, stayed together and had a lot of fun out there,” veteran Darien coach Laurie LaRusso said. “Our serving and passing were critical. If you can’t do that, nothing else really matters.”
Exactly. That’s why the Falcons fell behind by two sets early and had to battle back. Falcons coach Meghan Skelton felt those two facets of the game were the difference in the match.
“Serving and passing were our struggles tonight,” Skelton said. “Finally, we picked up our serving and passing, but it was still a problem throughout the match, it didn’t go in our favor.”
Thanks to seven aces from Blue Wave servers in the opening set, Darien opened a 9-4 and kept it at five, 18-13 until Ludlowe rallied to even things at 24-24 but a side out and a service point from Lindsay Bennett gave Darien the initial set.
Leading 13-12 in the second set, the Blue Wave used four service points from Lindsey Fay to grab a 17-12 advantage and hold on to win 25-21.
“We felt together as a team,” Bennett said. “This was a blast, playing such a competitive team like Ludlowe, we had so much fun out there.”
As did the Falcons, who won the next two sets – the first time they have rallied from a 2-0 set deficit this season – to even the match and force the decider.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we came back from two sets down,” Skelton said. “The girls are working hard, we just have to keep digging in and can’t get down and they’re adapting to that attitude and stepping up.”
Down 8-4 in the fifth, Ludlowe kept fighting and tied matters at 14-14 but a side-out put Darien in front and when Aerin Bowman’s block found the floor, the Blue Wave had won it.
“We had a lot of fun rising to the challenge,” Darien’s Cristina Escajadillo said. “It was really exciting. We practice fifth sets so many times, it was fun to be part of the environment where there was so much energy in the gym.”
For Darien (10-4 overall, 9-2 FCIAC) Bennett had 10 kills, Escajadillo had 30 assists and Hassana Arbubakrr had nine kills. For Ludlowe (10-3, 7-3 FCIAC) Lily Traum had five service points, four kills, 27 assists and three digs. Amy Lunaj had 11 kills and five blocks and Jo Blanco had nine kills, 11 digs and five service points.
This coming Monday marks the start of a brutal week for the Falcons, who first travel to top-seeded St. Joseph and then come home to face No. 2 seed Westhill on Wednesday and then aStaples on Friday.
Oh, and then it’s town-rival Warde the following Monday.
“It’s exciting … this gives us the perfect hunger to go into those matches,” Skelton said. “They know they don’t want to repeat this (loss). They know what they need to do and that’s focus on the basics and doing out there and doing what we can do and not letting this happen again.”
DARIEN 3, LUDLOWE 2
DARIEN 6 25 23 19 16—3
LUDLOWE 24 21 25 25 14—2