Baseball

Darien Makes The Least Costly Mistakes To Defeat Westhill And Clinch Playoff Berth

Darien’s James Louis got the win with 2 1/3 innings of solid relief. (Matt Dewkett)

DARIEN — With the scramble for FCIAC Tournament berths now in overdrive, wins are judged solely on their currency. Cosmetic points carry no value.

So Darien was not about to throw today’s 5-3 win over Westhill back into the pond. The teams combined for nearly half as many errors (five) as hits (12). The tying and go-ahead runs came on wild pitches.

But a week before the quarterfinal round, the Blue Wave clinched their berth. Darien coach Mike Scott said his focus would now be on fine-tuning the defense, a luxury afforded just two other schools that have qualified at this point.

Darien catcher Ben Olson gets a force out at home as Westhill’s Joey Gambino tries to score. (Matt Dewkett)

“Both teams tried to give it to each other,” Scott said. “We’re both fighting for FCIAC berths and it looks like neither of us want to be there. Sometimes you have to win ugly, it comes down to that. And we won ugly today. And they’ll say the same thing. They gave it to us, we tried to give it to them. We came out on the right side of the scoreboard. That’s all you can really ask for.”

Henry Williams, the Blue Wave’s ace, had a rare off day, which in his case meant not allowing an earned run over 4 2/3 innings. He gave up four hits and struck out nine, but walked four. The three runs he yielded were due to three errors.

Westhill’s Evan Campbell tries to tag Darien’s Nicky Briganti, who scores on a wild pitch. (Matt Dewkett)

Still, he left with just a 3-1 deficit, twice working out of bases-loaded jams and leaving Darien positioned for a comeback, which it did in large part because of the flawless relief job by James Louis.

“He labored today,” Scott said of Williams. “He didn’t have his best stuff. Wasn’t around the zone as much as he normally is. Found a way to way to make some pitches here and there but they also found a way to scratch some runs across. I hated to take him out in the fifth inning but his pitch count was up. Luckily James was up to the task.”

Louis gave up just one hit over the final 2 1/3 innings. He finished the game needing to throw just 18 pitches.

Darien’s Devyn Kipphut and Alec Stephens nearly collide going after a fly ball. (Matt Dewkett)

“He did a great job,” Scott said. “He’s been that guy for us all year. He’s been one of our starters and it is something we have relied on for him to come in and put a good outing together on the mound.”

Darien made the score 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Liam McLaughlin hit a one-out single and eventually scored on a fielder’s choice.

In the sixth, pinch hitter Nicky Briganti hit a leadoff double, pumping his fists in the air as he reached second. Aaron Sears reached on a bunt single to put runners on the corners. After a ground out, Henry Williams walked against Evan Campbell. That brought up McLaughlin. During his at-bat two runners scored on wild pitches and then McLaughlin singled to make the score 5-3.

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Westhill’s Bobby Zmarzlak swings at a pitch. (Matt Dewkett)

“We took advantage of their mistakes,” Scott said. “A couple of big hits like Nicky Berganti coming up to lead off the bottom of the sixth to give us that spark, which was huge. I think the rest of the team just followed his lead right there. It was nice to see the comeback and it was a good comeback. We haven’t come back much this year but it was good to get one at this point.”

The Blue Wave is 11-7 over all and 10-4 in league play, two games behind first-place Staples and one behind Fairfield Ludlowe.

Darien’s Ben Olson gets hit by a pitch. (Matt Dewkett)

It was a frustrating loss in many ways for the Vikings (11-7, 7-7), who are one of six teams with seven league wins in contention for two spots. Everything seemed to be aligned: On a day their ace, Montana Semmel, was in the field, they got good enough pitching and had a lead with Williams out of the game. But they could not close.

“It’s tough,” Westhill coach DJ Mulvany said. “We talked about since Wednesday all these games have to be playoff games for us if we want to play next week. It was nice to be able to get Williams out, we had some momentum going and allowed two runs and defensively the execution was really, really iffy on our part. Letting them get back in the game.”

Noah Skaug had two of the Vikings’ five hits, but their runs came on two errors and a steal of home.

Westhill’s Joey Gambino tries to drive a pitch. (Matt Dewkett)

“We’ve been very sound. We’ve made all those plays all year,” Mulvany said. “That’s why it is unfortunate when we needed it most, with the lead and the playoffs in the balance, it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to capitalize.”

Westhill is now 1-3 in its last four games. Darien broke a slide of three losses in its last four games.

“We’re just hitting our stride right now and we’re going to try and keep that going through the playoffs,” said the Blue Wave’s Glen Fay, who had two hits and an RBI. “The worst thing you can do is peak now because that mean’s we’d be going downhill.”

Darien’s Henry Williams delivers a pitch. (Matt Dewkett)