By Emery Filmer
BRIDGEPORT – It is safe to say when a baseball team wins 17 out of 21 games and captures a regular-season championship in one of the best leagues in the state, it did a terrific job avoiding mistakes.
That trend ended, however, for Darien High School Wednesday night in the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference semifinals against Wilton at Harbor Yard.
One baserunning error and a dropped infield pop doomed the Blue Wave. A solid pitching performance by Wilton’s Jackson Ward also played a key role as the Warriors won 5-1 and earned a spot in Friday’s 7:30 championship game at Harbor Yard.
Wilton, which last reached the final 20 years ago, will face the winner of Thursday’s 5 p.m. semifinal at Harbor Yard between No. 2 seed Staples and No. 6 Trinity Catholic. That was supposed to follow the Wilton-Darien game Wednesday but was postponed because of the threat of rain and rescheduled to Thursday.
Ward, a curveballing right-hander, finished with a 10-hitter but struck out a career high 11 batters.
“That’s my style, bend but don’t break,” Ward said after struggling with his breaking ball all game. Nevertheless, Darien stranded nine runners on base. “I’m not a power pitcher and I guess it’s the mark of a good pitcher to get outs when you don’t have your best stuff.”
One out Ward got was something of a gift in the bottom of the fifth with Wilton leading, 1-0. Danny Siemers had opened the inning with a single for Darien and advanced to second on an error on the play. James Schofield then lifted a fly to shallow leftfield. Siemers, caught halfway between second and third, tried to make it to third after the ball dropped but was thrown out. Two more hits later in the inning left the frustrated top seed Blue Wave (17-5) wondering what might have been.
“It was one of those ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ kind of plays,” Darien coach Mike Scott said.
“Our kid pitched a whale of a game and we beat a very good baseball team,” Wilton coach Tim Eagen added. Eagen didn’t want to put any emphasis on the mistakes Darien made, but did add, “We played a pretty clean game.”
The second Darien blunder was a killer. In the top of the sixth, with Wilton runners on second and third and two outs, a routine, high pop fly in front of the plate fell between Darien pitcher Jake Frasca, catcher Anthony DiMeglia and the third baseman Schofield. Both runners scored on what should have been the third out.
“Maybe we’re down one or two instead of four without those plays,” Scott said. “Those mistakes really hurt us. They changed the whole complexion of the game. The pop up was a big game-changer.”
It was anyone’s game before the bottom of the fifth. The No. 5 seed Warriors (17-5) had taken a 1-0 lead in the third when James Meany’s RBI groundout followed singles by Scott Shouvlin and Collin Kahal. Shouvlin and Kahal — the No. 8 and 9 batters in Wilton’s order — had hits again in the fifth when the Warriors made it 2-0.
Darien did manage to get one run in the fifth on Frasca’s RBI single but then fell behind 5-1 in the sixth when the Warriors used one infield single by Harry Sabo and two walks to go along with the fateful dropped infield pop to score three runs.
That was more than enough for Ward, even if every time he looked up Darien seemed to have two men on base.
“I’m not a power pitcher but I tend to bear down when they get runners in scoring position,” Ward said.
“Darien was one hit away a few times but every time they threatened, we answered,” Eagen said.
NOTES: Dillon Lifrieri, Shouvlin and Kahal had two hits each for Wilton. Mike Maccarone, DiMeglia and Schofield had two hits for Darien. … Darien starting pitcher Andrew Winsch lasted four-plus innings, allowing two runs and seven hits. … Wilton will be making its first appearance in the FCIAC final since it won it all in 1995. Trinity (15-6) last won the FCIAC crown in 2000 while Staples (17-4) emerged as FCIAC champ in 2008, 2009 and 2011. Darien was looking for its first championship since 1981 and its first title game appearance since 1998.