FAIRFIELD — A rematch that was supposed to follow the template of three weeks ago instead, surprisingly, became the repeat of a meeting between the St. Joseph and Darien softball teams a year earlier.
The Cadets erupted for eight runs in the fourth inning on Thursday and rolled to a surprisingly easy 12-1 win over the Blue Wave in the FCIAC Tournament championship at Sacred Heart University.
It was the second straight year the top-seeded Cadets (22-1) defeated Darien by 11 runs in the playoffs, following an 11-0 semifinal win last May.
“I am honestly speechless,” said Tori Ceballos, one of two senior starters who won an elusive conference title. Ceballos had two hits, drove in a run and was named most valuable player. “We have unfinished business to do, and we did it.”
Darien (20-3), the No. 2 seed, handed the Cadets their lone loss, a 1-0 pitchers’ duel, earlier this month.
And Thursday’s final started out the same way, with St. Joseph’s Nicole Williams and Darien’s Erika Osherow locked in a scoreless battle through 3 1/2 innings.
Then, in a show of muscle, the Cadets exploded for 10 hits to break the game open. At one point seven straight batters reached base. Williams, who started the rally with a single, had two hits in the inning, as did Amy Chacho and Melissa Bike.
Lauren Pitney, the hitting star of the day with a double, triple and five RBIs, said the Cadets carefully studied Osherow for their second meeting after getting shut out the first time.
“We knew she was around the zone,” Pitney said. “We knew she wasn’t a wild pitcher. We stayed patient. Get the good pitches we needed to hit, and that’s what it all came down to.”
St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau said he saw some early foreshadowing that gave him confidence in the dugout.
“The first three swings of the game I knew they were going to be on her,” Babineau said. “I think they were ready for her.”
Darien coach Nick DeMaio had not yet spoken to Osherow after the game — he removed her following the fourth inning, in part because she was struck on the leg by a comebacker, though she batted one final time — but he, like Babineau, saw his own tell-tale signs.
“What it amounted to is, what she felt, and I could see it in her body, that she didn’t have her best stuff and that affected her confidence,” DeMaio said. “It got away from us. Maybe the three days in a row affected us where it didn’t affect them.”
The game provided a perfect bookend for the Cadets, who opened the tournament with another 11-run win, over New Canaan, the team that upset them in last year’s final. This was the team’s first league championship since 2007.
“Darien’s a great team and we knew we were going to have a challenge,” Ceballos said. “They did beat us during the regular season so we were really ready. I’m really proud of Nicole. She pitched a great game.”
Williams took over full-time duties pitching this season after sharing the position with Ceballos, who moved to first base, a year ago. And Williams has spent the season as consistent as a metronome, but often getting overshadowed, often by her teammates, and by Osherow in her one loss.
That was partially the case on Thursday. Williams, Chacho and Bike also finished with two hits each as part of a 13-hit attack.
Williams pitched a four-hitter. The Cadets have allowed just 19 runs this season.
“She’s been pitching like that all year,” Babineau said. “It was a nice stage for her to do it on. We backed her up. That’s the great thing. They got the hits when they needed to.”
Pitney said the Cadets were motivated to win the title since the end of last season, which ended with losses in their final two postseason games.
“It’s been our goal all fall, all winter and all spring,” Pitney said. “We wanted this win.”