STAMFORD — Based on who was and wasn’t returning, the thinking a month ago was that the Stamford High School softball team was going to stay on a continued upswing after reaching the conference championship a year ago, while Darien was going to tumble down a few steps.
But based on the first third of the season and as evidenced on Wednesday afternoon, just the opposite has been true.
The Blue Wave scored six times in the first inning and put up four more runs in the sixth for a surprisingly convincing 12-4 win at Stamford, where opponents are rarely treated kindly.
“Our main focus is to get on them early,” said Darien shortstop Cassidy Schiff, a returning starter who went 2 for 4, drove in a run and came up with two defensive gems to end innings. “To do it today against a team of this caliber is great for our moving to the postseason.”
Kailani Caruso was the offensive star, finishing with two hits, three RBIs and three runs scored. Sophia Barbour, co-holder of the title “biggest shoes to fill” at the start of the season, allowed eight hits. Only two of Stamford’s runs were earned.
Barbour has been getting most of the work on the mound, sharing time with Lexi Lopiano, who also is the Blue Wave’s centerfielder. If Barbour can continue to pitch well, Darien coach Nick DeMaio would prefer to keep Lopiano in the outfield.
“You’ve got to like Sophie’s combativeness and with Lexi we are stronger defensively,” DeMaio said. “What you saw today is our best team but Lexi is a good pitcher too.”
The Blue Wave had a pretty good pitcher last year too, Erika Osherow, who went from targeted as a redshirt freshman to earning the starting position at Virginia. With the departure of Osherow in particular, Darien was at best considered an uncertainty.
Instead, it is 4-2 over all and 4-1 in league play.
“Anytime you lose the state player of the year you are going to make assumptions the team isn’t going to be as good, but it is a credit to these ladies we just do it in a little different way,” DeMaio said. “We just try to be relentless with the hitting and we have some kids who can play defense.”
While DeMaio is hoping to continue to develop the Blue Wave, his counterpart at Stamford, Tony Esposito, is trying to figure out what to do with a team that entered holding high hopes but has players who are capable of but thus far have yet to adjust to playing bigger roles.
The Black Knights dipped below .500 at 3-4 and are 3-2 in the league. They hit the ball well at times — Maria Zecena had a two-run homer and Allie Buzzeo and Sara Staley each had two hits — but not with runners in scoring position, stranding 11. Staley, who came on strong last season, struggled with her command, walking six.
While she was not sharp, it was not her fault that the defense committed five errors behind her and that just five of the runs were earned.
“We didn’t get it done,” Esposito said. “We certainly didn’t get any aspect of the game done. That’s the bottom line.”
Esposito admitted afterward he is concerned, and how to fix a team that appears to be playing with greater trepidation now that there is increased pressure is not an easy task. Stamford’s problems at this point appear to be psychological; many of the starters who made last year a success are back.
Meanwhile, the Darien players are loving a role somewhat similar to where Stamford was a year ago.
“Definitely as a returner I wanted to show that we were still in it,” Schiff said. “I’m hoping we can prove to people that you can’t forget about us. Losing those seniors was a bit of a punch but we were able to come back from that this year. These girls have really stepped up. We definitely had this one circled at the beginning of the season. To be able to come out here and take it to them is very important to us.”