DARIEN — There was a time when the Darien baseball program operated in relative anonymity. Success was modest at best. The bigger attractions on campus were the nationally ranked boys and girls lacrosse teams.
The fortunes have changed under Mike Scott, who has led the Blue Wave to two FCIAC baseball titles the last three years.
A change in profile? Not so much.
“We kind of like it that way,” Scott said of his overshadowed team. “We just go about our business. We work the kids hard, the kids buy into what we’re selling and the results have followed.”
Darien has become the league’s dominant spring sports program, usually competing for titles in most sports. Baseball arguably is the most difficult because by its nature it is not structured for one-and-done formats. The quarterfinal round is usually the most arduous, because a weaker team can ride the arm of a strong No. 1 pitcher.
Yet the Blue Wave has become a consistent winner, and four years ago pulled off the rare feat of winning the regular season and tournament titles.
Darien is positioned now to go after its third title in four years, which would be the best stretch by a team since Staples did it from 2008-11. Fueled by a five-game midseason winning streak, the Blue Wave became one of four teams to clinch playoff berths at the end of last week. A loss to St. Joseph today left them at 11-8 over all and 10-5 in league play with one game to go.
Still, lacrosse remains the talk of the town.
“That’s just another spring season in Darien,” Scott said. “It’s nothing new. You can almost say it every year. People tend to forget who won last year’s championship. I don’t think anyone was talking about Wilton last year being the defending champs. New year, new blood, lets go out and play ball.”
New blood is a term Scott has used often the past six weeks. He returned just two starters, led by Henry Williams, the team’s No. 1 pitcher and shortstop. Darien opened with two losses before rebounding with a three-game winning streak.
“You’re talking about seven new faces who had never seen varsity action,” Scott said. I really think the first two games were a whole bunch of nerves. They were experiencing the varsity level for the first time and then we went up to Guilford, got out of the area and it clicked for a minute. We got a few big hits early in the game, our third starter, Mac McLean, had a really good game on the mound, we made some plays behind him and the guys kind of built on that experience. We have a chance to be pretty good here. Even the first two games we were close. The offense just hadn’t gotten going yet. It took a couple of those guys a few at-bats to get acclimated to varsity speed.”
Playing in the state’s deepest league, the Blue Wave have fared better in conference, though they have lost to the four other schools that have clinched playoff spots.
Scott credited the upswing in the program to a number of factors, including the Blue Hawks travel team, coached by two of his assistants, John Miceli and Joe Marzano.
“We started to develop them in a way we wanted them developed when they get to the high school,” Scott said of the feeder program. “The players have come into the high school more prepared than they’ve ever been.”
Scott said they have also come in more dedicated to the sport.
“It really starts with the players,” Scott said. “They put in work in the offseason, summer ball, they play fall ball, they do stuff over the winter, they get in the weight room. They make a commitment to the sport. We don’t ask anybody to specialize. We still see the multi-sport athletes like Henry Williams, one of our top basketball players this year. At the same time they’ve made baseball a priority, which maybe wasn’t the case in years past.”
Pitching, led by Williams, has been the Blue Wave’s strength. The team ERA is 2.40. Williams is 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA. James Louis is 3-2 with a 2.42 earned run average. McLean is 3-1 with a 3.78 ERA. Scott has a number of arms in the bullpen.
Offensively, the Blue Wave have pretty much been a station to station team. It has just one home run and three triples. McLean has driven in a team-high 12 runs and is hitting .345. Louis is batting .357. Glen Fay is hitting .333 with 10 runs batted in.
The Blue Wave feels it is has the pieces in place for another title run.
“They want to continue the success,” Scott said. “They’ve seen how the last years have gone and they don’t want to be the class to let it fall back down. The whole success breeds success thing has been working for the last couple of years. They’re just not taking anything for granted.”