DARIEN — On the day the Darien High School baseball team won the regular season title and clinched the No. 1 seed in the FCIAC Tournament, we salute it in a most fitting manner:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
For those who have followed the Blue Wave the past 11 months, that is not a show here of boosterism, but rather the cheer they use each time they score a run. We will get to the derivation in a moment.
And a run was all it took Monday afternoon as the Blue Wave, showing the ingredients that have gone into their 17-2 record with one game left, used pitching, defense and made Sean O’Malley’s home run stand up in a 1-0 win over Greenwich, which had won seven straight games before a loss to Westhill in its second game on Saturday. The Cardinals (13-5, 11-4) would have held the tiebreaker for the top spot with a win.
In an appropriate tribute to a season that has been fashioned by executing fundamentals, Darien’s win ended with O’Malley throwing out a runner attempting to steal second.
“That’s what it came down to, a couple of big defensive plays, and our defense today was tremendous,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “The defense was there and if that’s a preview of the FCIAC Tournament it’s going to be a heck of a ride. That’s what we have to keep hanging our hat on, the old pitching-and-defense-wins-championships. Survive a one-game tournament from here on out. Survive and advance.”
If Scott sounds like he has been repackaging the same quotes after each game, well, for the most part he has. It is not that Scott has run through his entire vocabulary. If throwing strikes and not making errors aren’t particularly glamorous in a short-attention-span world where long home runs and slugfests make highlight reels, then talking about it may not lead to a headline-making quote. Scott is a throwback, and so are his players.
“Did anyone expect us to be where we are?” Scott asked. “For these guys to be 17-2, its just a tremendous tip of the cap to their will and determination. They want to work and they want to get better. They’ve never gotten satisfied with their success.”
It is a rather remarkable accomplishment, considering the depth of talent in the league this season. Twelve teams started Monday in contention for the eight league playoff spots with two games left. Fourteen of the 17 schools will play in the state tournaments.
It may sound like setting the Blue Wave up for consolation prizes, but winning the regular season title is far more difficult than the postseason championship. Baseball is not a single-elimination sport. The Darien players know it: last year they also took the best record into the postseason and lost in the semifinals. They have earned the right for a brief celebration after an accomplishment that could be forgotten in nine days, when the league final is held.
“Anything can happen, it’s a crapshoot,” Scott said. “The league is so deep you can go 12 or 13 teams deep and it is still a crapshoot.”
Darien defeated Greenwich despite being out-hit, 9-2. Andrew Winsch scattered eight hits over five innings to improve to 6-1. Rich Brereton came in for the save. Darien turned two double plays, got great middle-infield defense from Chris Drake and was fortunate to have some hard-hit balls with runners in scoring position come right to defenders.
“This is like any other game in the season where we want to go out and win against an excellent team,” Winsch said. “It shows us what the FCIAC Tournament is going to be like so this is really great.”
Greenwich, which will secure the second seed with a win Wednesday against New Canaan, received a strong pitching performance from Connor Langan, who walked six but stranded seven and was deserving of a better fate.
The Cardinals received scant more attention than Darien before the start of the season, and their coach, Phil Tarantino, took a defiant stance after the game.
“I love our energy,” he said. “I think we’re the best team in the league, I’m just going to say it. Nobody picked us to do anything this year. This has been our effort all year and I’m proud of this team.”
About the loss, Tarantino added, “No, it’s on us. We made our own mistakes that we need to correct.”
The Cardinals have the talent to back up their coach’s words in the playoffs. Monday provided added motivation.
“This was a playoff atmosphere,” Tarantino said. “The kids are as hurt now as if they had just lost the FCIAC championship.”
Winsch said the Blue Wave were spurred this spring by being a forgotten team, and will carry with them the memories from a year ago.
“Last year we came up short in the FCIAC playoffs after getting a lot of publicity and this year not getting anything gave us the drive,” he said. “Nothing is going to be handed to us. It is playoff baseball. We just have to play our game like we do every day and be ready for whoever walks through the door.”
Scott attended a UConn baseball game a year ago against East Carolina, which used a corny cheer each time it scored. Scott found it energetic, suggested it to his players and it has stuck.
Scott said it probably annoys opponents, but he likes the zest it brings to his dugout.
So as the Blue Wave have earned the right for a brief celebration as they finish phase one, we again salute them a final time with their own words.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.