FCIAC

Darien Taps Offense To Defeat Staples For Second FCIAC Title In Three Years

Darien pitcher Jackson Vaught and catcher Arthur Xanthos celebrate after the final out. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

STAMFORD — Perhaps no high school baseball team in the state is so public about its emphasis on pitching and defense than Darien. Boring baseball is how Mike Scott, the Blue Wave’s coach, refers to it. The foundation of championships, he stresses, are built on the art of not allowing runs.

Tonight it turned out that a little bit of offense can be helpful. After winning their first two FCIAC Tournament games on one-hitters, the Blue Wave broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth inning with three runs on three of their 13 hits for a 7-4 decision over Staples to win their second league title in three years.

Darien (17-3), the fourth seed, finished with 13 hits.

Arthur Xanthos slides in for the first Darien run of the night. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“It was nice to break out a little bit,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “Better now when we needed it tonight. The first two games we really didn’t.”

Arthur Xanthos, the Blue Wave’s most overshadowed player in the first two playoff wins, got his turn in the spotlight tonight with the game-winning hit, an RBI single that preceded Mac McLean’s two-run base hit.

Xanthos came up after Sean O’Malley was walked before him to load the bases with two outs.

Darien’s Sean O’Malley delivers a hit. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“That was the cockiest walk I’ve ever made in my life walking to that plate,” Xanthos said. “I was thinking I better come through with this hit because I’m looking pretty cocky up there.”

Xanthos, who was named the game’s most valuable player, drove in both runs with singles in yesterday’s 2-0 semifinal win over Fairfield Ludlowe.

“That kid’s been waiting three years for a shot,” Scott said. “He was named captain for a reason. He’s a hard worker, he’s a leader and to have him come through in that spot means everything. He deserves it.”

Staples’s Zach Zobel connects for a double. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

And that does not include his work behind the plate with the pitchers.

“It was such a pleasure being able to catch Justin Jordan, Justin Van de Graaf, Jackson Vaught,” Xanthos said.

Slideshow: FCIAC Baseball Final: Darien 7, Staples 4

Henry Williams and Jordan threw one-hitters to get the Blue Wave to the final. While the numbers tonight were not quite as dominant, Van de Graaf, who got the start, and Vaught, the closer who worked the final 2 1/3 innings, gave the Blue Wave what they needed.

Van de Graaf allowed seven hits and was nicked for three runs in the fifth when Staples tied the game at 4-4. Vaught allowed just one hit and one walk.

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Staples’ Kevin Rabacs heads for second base. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“We still got really good pitching tonight from Van de Graaf and Vaught came in and shut the door,” Scott said. “That’s really what it came down to, good pitching, we played great defense tonight.”

Talking about Van de Graaf, Scott added, “He was up in his pitch count a little bit, we tried to ride him one more inning and he tired out. We had to make the move and Jackson just came through. He was ready. He didn’t get a chance the first two and he was just waiting for his opportunity. He came in and delivered today.”

Jordan made a spectacular diving catch in centerfield to rob the Wreckers’ Zach Zobel of a leadoff extra-base hit in the bottom of the eighth.

Fin Batson, the Blue Wave’s No. 9 hitter, finished with three hits. Xanthos, McLean, Max Gasvoda and Harry Rayhill added two each, with McLean and Rayhill driving in two runs apiece.

Darien’s Jackson Vaught delivers a pitch. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“Thankfully we were able to scrap some runs together,” Xanthos said. “Last FCIAC championship when I was a sophomore, same exact game, back and forth. They score a run, we score a run. It comes down to defense and pitching.”

The Blue Wave needed eight innings two years ago to defeat Trumbull 3-2 for their first league title in the sport since 1981.

Matt Stone and Max Popken each had two hits for the second-seeded Wreckers (17-5). Trailing 4-1 in the fifth, they got three straight run-scoring hits: a double by Chad Knight and singles from Drew Rogers and Matt Stone, to tie the game.

Staples coach Jack McFarland used four different pitchers and they were able to position the team to win before the Blue Wave broke through.

Darien celebrates its second FCIAC title in three years. (Photo: Matt Dewkett)

“All the big pitching matchups were early in the tournament, it turns a little bit into a little dicey mix and match, get into your bullpen and see what happens,” McFarland said. “I thought our pitchers did well, they kept us in the game. What hurt us was our lineup didn’t come through with runners in scoring position and two outs. Darien was a little tougher in the batter’s box. They out-hit us and they deserved to win. We’ll regroup and try to defend our CIAC title and see how that goes.”

The Wreckers almost escaped the jam in the eighth when third baseman Andrew Moy threw out a runner at the plate for the second out.

That brought Xanthos to the plate.

“It was amazing,” Xanthos said. “Justin Van de Graaf was amazing, he was dealing. We credit almost all of our success this season to pitching and defense. If I’m able to be overshadowed by pitching and defense than that’s a great opportunity.”