WESTPORT — One of the reasons Darien entered the FCIAC girls soccer tournament as the No. 8 seed was its inability to defend set plays this season.
During a regular-season loss to Staples, that was one of the things that really bit the Blue Wave.
On Thursday at Albie Loeffler Field, the Blue Wave found those goals on the other foot.
Darien scored a pair of long-range direct kicks in the first 90 seconds of overtime as the Blue Wave stunned top-seeded — and previously undefeated — Staples by a 2-0 score.
Darien (10-5-2) will play fourth-seeded New Canaan, a 1-0 winner over Wilton.
Staples, which suffered its first defeat of the season and fell to 13-1-3 will await the start of the Class LL state tournament.
“That’s been one of our weaknesses all year, giving away silly fouls and not clearing away corners,” Blue Wave coach Leigh Parsons said. “Today, we got the free kicks, we got the set pieces and we put them on target and we scored two goals.”
Eilanna Dolan and Nathalie Bravo, both seniors, scored goals just seconds apart in the first 90 seconds of overtime to give Darien a lead it would not relinquish.
Dolan booted a direct kick 35 yards just under the crossbar and 45 seconds later Bravo bounced home a long direct kick from midfield.
“Nat usually takes the far-out kicks, but when they’re closer to net, Leigh puts me on them,” Dolan said. “I knew I had to put it on target and thankfully I did.”
Dolan’s blast just slipped past the fingertips of Staples goalkeeper Zoe Barnett and just under the crossbar for a 1-0 lead.
Bravo, meanwhile, booted a long high ball from midfield that bounced in front of Barnett (3 saves) and then over her head into the net, setting off a wild Wave celebration at midfield.
“I just tried to hit it like I would a goal kick and luckily it hit right before the goalie and went over her head.”
The rest would be left up to the Wave defense, which withstood multiple first-half opportunities by the Wreckers and dodged a pair of huge missed Staples chances late in the game.
Playing in front of Darien goalkeeper Caroline Orphanos (11 saves) were defenders Anna Fox and Eva Finn, both senior captains, along with sophomore Nelle Kniffin and freshman Maggie Ramsay.
“Our defense was impeccable,” said Dolan. “Free kicks were something we were struggling with and they (hurt) us with that last time. But that changed and our ability to defend better helped us.”
TALE OF TWO HALVES
While Staples dominated play in the first half, when it had the wind at its back, the Blue Wave changed the tide in the second.
Darien wouldn’t get the strong scoring chances Staples did in the first 40 minutes of play, but it kept the Wreckers at bay until the final eight minutes of regulation..
Then the Wreckers had two strong opportunities to steal away the game late.
Alexander Hamer had a near-breakaway that was nullified by Kniffin.
Moments later, Charlotte Barnes had an opportunity to finish from in close, but the ball just slipped outside of the post.
“I don’t have a lot for you,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “Normally, I’m full of words, but when a team wants to win the game more, they win the game. Darien deserved to win. That’s all I’ve got.”
SECOND TIME AROUND
Staples defeated Darien 3-1 during their regular-season matchup.
The Blue Wave, however, held a 1-0 lead late in the second half when the Wreckers took advantage of some set pieces to take the lead.
“We knew if we hung in there long enough, we’d get chances,” Parsons said. “Then, if we got our chances and limited theirs, we knew we could play with them.”
“We knew we had certain girls who could hit the target with the wind behind their back and we knew that could create some trouble,” Parsons said of his big-footed, goal-scoring duo.
DARIEN 2, STAPLES 0
DARIEN 0 0 2—2
STAPLES 0 0 0—0
Records: Darien 10-5-2, Staples 13-1-3; Goals: D—Eilanna Dolan, Nathalie Bravo; Assists: None; Goalkeepers: D— Caroline Orphanos (11 saves); S—Zoe Barnett (3 saves).