By Hayley Tafuro
FAIRFIELD — The Stamford Black Knights came up with big plays down the stretch in a semifinal game that lasted eight innings Tuesday afternoon at Sacred Heart University, which led to a 4-2 victory over the Darien Blue Wave and a berth in the FCIAC championship.
“I’m very proud. I’m very proud of our seniors. A lot of our seniors came through today — everyone contributed — everyone did their job,” coach Tony Esposito said.
This is the Black Knights’ first trip to the conference final since winning the title in 2006. They are seeded third and improved to 19-4.
After a quiet first two innings, the action heightened at the top of the third when an obstruction call advanced Stamford’s Lauren O’Neill to third base and kept Maria Zecena at bat. O’Neill scored the first run of the game off of Zecena’s subsequent hit, and the Black Knights took a 1-0 lead.
No. 2 Darien (19-3) immediately came back in the bottom of the third. Cassie Lopiano had a single and advanced to second after a bunt from Avery Maley. Lopiano stole third and came home after a Sophia Barbour hit.
From there it became a battle of the pitchers, Stamford’a Sara Staley (six strikeouts) and Darien’s Erika Osherow (11 strikeouts), who both never seemed to lose their cool even as the pressure increased.
“Just staying confident and just trying not to let my nerves get to me, knowing that my team was behind me, and to pitch my game,” sophomore pitcher Sara Staley said on her mindset throughout the rest of the game.
Osherow was in her zone at the mound in the top of the seventh, and the Blue Wave had a chance to walk away with a win in the bottom of the seventh. The Stamford defense stayed sharp, starting with a key catch by Zecena in right field to get the first out of the inning, and from there the Black Knights got the next two batters out, pushing the game to the eighth inning.
Here, things came together for Stamford.
Catcher Tori Cuscuna got on base, and both she and O’Neill advanced to second and third after an error at first base. Some confusion in the infield brought Zecena to first and just like that, Stamford had the bases loaded with one out. Brianna Arias came up to bat and got a sacrifice fly that brought Cuscuna home and gave the Black Knights a 2-1 lead. The hits didn’t stop as Nicole Pease came up and knocked one straight down the middle and intro centerfield, bringing O’Neill and Zecena home. Osherow ended the inning with a strikeout.
Despite Darien scoring a run in the bottom of the innng that made the score 4-2 after a base hit from Rebecca DeMaio that brought Kelly Vodola home, some solid defensive plays from Stamford and a final strikeout from Staley sealed the game.
“Sara was on,” Esposito said. “Her off-speed really helped her, and it was just an all-out team effort.”
“It was just amazing,” Staley added. “My teammates did such a great job hitting and running…it was amazing to watch them do that.”