BRIDGEPORT — Is being a boring winner an insult?
Not if you are the Darien baseball team, which is using refreshing old-school play to fashion its best season in decades. If you don’t like good pitching, strong defense and opportunism, the Blue Wave have a number of other strong programs competing this week for conference championships.
The baseball team continues to do the same following Monday’s 5-1 FCIAC Tournament semifinal win over Norwalk, and while the Darien players admit they still get overshadowed by nationally ranked boys and girls lacrosse teams, that gap has closed this spring.
“I think at the beginning no one was really recognizing us, but as we went on and got all these wins I think now they are,” said Andrew Winsch, the pitcher who threw a five-hitter against the Bears, losing a shutout in the final inning.
The Blue Wave will meet Trumbull, a 3-1 winner over Fairfield Warde in Monday’s second game, for the title on Wednesday.
Darien has trademarked fundamental ball this spring; its games rarely stray from the template. That is by design.
“The message today was to come up here and play our game,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “Not let the moment get too big. Pitch, play good defense, good at bats and not deviate from who we are. Last year we tried to do too much. This year they did a better job settling down and letting the game come to them.”
The Blue Wave (18-3) were the top seed a year ago, losing to eventual champion Wilton in the semifinals. Winsch took the defeat.
“There was definitely a little bit of pressure after last year and pitching in the semifinal game,” Winsch said. “There was a little bit extra drive coming into the game.”
Darien took a 1-0 lead in the first when Rich Brereton singled and Casey Brown doubled.
The Blue Wave added three runs in the third, taking advantage of an error, three walks and Cord Fox’s base hit.
Many of Darien’s players were at Harbor Yard for last year’s semifinal loss, most watching from the bench.
“They knew what to expect,” Scott said. “They’ve been here before, they have seen the environment. When you are out there and the ball starts coming at you it’s a little bit different.”
Norwalk coach Pete Tucci was dealing with a limited pitching staff, with three potential starters out, including his usual No. 2, Ryan Searles, who has a sore elbow and was restricted to being the designated hitter.
“We are quite a few pitchers down,” said Tucci, whose fourth-seeded team is now 12-10. “They did the best they could. They came out, they battled. The kids came and tried their best. That’s all you can ask.”
Winsch improved to 7-1 with the win. Tucci was impressed.
“He threw strikes, kept the ball away, kept the ball low,” Tucci said. “He just knows how to pitch.”
Norwalk had just two hits before rallying in the seventh, loading the bases before Winsch escaped trouble, allowing just a sacrifice fly.
Brereton and Brown had two hits apiece, with Brown driving in two runs.
“These guys have been competing all year,” Scott said. “It is nice to get a couple in the tournament and try to get another one on Wednesday.”
As for all the diverse chatter spurred by the Blue Wave’s style of play, Scott had a spot-on comment.
“We will let everybody else talk,” he said, “and we will just keep playing ball.”
In the second game, Trumbull’s Chris O’Brien settled down after yielding a leadoff double and giving up a run in the first, allowing just five hits over six innings.
“I felt really good out there,” O’Brien said. “I found my groove. Mostly fastballs. A couple of innings that’s all I threw.
Trumbull (15-7), the No. 3 seed, answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Kris DiCocco, who had three hits, got his first after an 11-pitch at-bat, setting the stage for RBI singles by Alex Rauso and O’Brien.
The Eagles added a run in the third when DiCocco singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
From there O’Brien and the Mustangs’ John Natoli worked in and out of trouble. Trumbull left 10 runners on base.
“Big time performance out of Chris tonight,” Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli said. “He’s been one of the more underrated pitchers in this league this year for sure. He brought his best tonight, we needed it and I’m real proud of him.”
Seventh-seeded Warde (15-7) had two runners on with two outs in the seventh when Trumbull second baseman ended the game with a diving catch on a line drive that robbed Jack Myers of a hit.
“Our defense is our strength,” Pacelli said. “We’re not going to be putting up 10, 12 runs a game. We’re going to scratch runs across. We’re not flashy, but we’re a fundamentally sound team. We defend, we pitch.”
Trumbull handed Darien one of its three league losses six days ago.
“We’re confident,” Pacelli said. “They are a good team, we know that, the most consistent team in the league this year and it’s going to be fun.”