DARIEN — For three games over 15 days, the Darien and Trumbull baseball teams engaged in their own season within a season, a mini series between FCIAC old money in the sport and the nouveau riche. The Eagles, a proud and tradition-rich program, won in the final game of the regular season, followed up last week by the Blue Wave, a rising program in what in the spring is referred to as a lacrosse town, seizing their first conference championship since 1991.
The deciding game came on Wednesday afternoon, and with seasons on the line the two schools offered up a final classic, with the Eagles riding a complete-game effort by Joe Nemchek and Vinny DeRubeis’ decisive two-run homer in the fourth inning to a 5-4 win.
Trumbull (17-8), the No. 14 seed, will face Simsbury in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
“Obviously last Wednesday hurt us real bad,” said Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli, referring to the 3-2 loss in eight innings to Darien on a walkoff single. “I just told these guys we could have looked at our draw, Norwalk and then Darien if we won. That’s a tall order. I’m so proud of the guys. We battled yesterday and today, grinding out at-bats. We hit the ball a little better today.”
The Eagles needed nine innings for a 1-0 win over the Bears on Tuesday, setting up Wednesday’s re-rematch. Schools generally loathe facing conference opponents in the state tournament, but if Trumbull was going to have to go that route, it preferred getting one last chance at the Blue Wave.
“They’re a tough team, that was the biggie, but I’m glad we played them because we had to get some kind of revenge back,” said Joe Nemchek, who took a no-decision after throwing seven innings in the league final but went the distance on Wednesday.
It was a disappointing day with a few rays of sunshine for Darien (21-4), the No. 3 seed, which set a school record for wins in a season. That was not lost on coach Mike Scott and his players.
“Last week a really good team was going to win the FCIAC championship, the same thing today,” Scott said. “We have to tip our caps to Trumbull. They’re a good program. Their level of consistency and success and excellence is something we aspire to be. We have nothing but respect for those guys over there. A hard-fought game, well-pitched game, well-played game. Both teams battled to the very end. Joe Nemchek, feel good for that kid who came out and got the job done in the end. He probably deserved a better fate last week. I’m so proud of the way our guys fought to the last pitch.”
Scott’s words and sentiments were typical of a day that featured mutual respect, despite some good-natured verbal taunting during play. Darien knew its season was ended by a strong team just as Trumbull understood it had to overcome one to keep its season alive.
“This was definitely the game I was bugging Coach about,” Nemchek said. “If we’re getting past Norwalk I want the ball against Darien. Hats off to these guys, every time we play these guys it’s a competitive ballgame. They’re great kids, we’re great kids and we just love playing baseball.”
Trumbull took a 2-0 lead in the second inning on DeRubeis’ RBI single and John Lynch’s ground out against Darien starter Andrew Winsch. The Blue Wave tied the game an inning later in the same manner: Richard Brereton singled in a run and Casey Brown drove in another on a fielder’s choice.
The Eagles broke the game open in the third. Alex Rauso singled, Chris O’Brien doubled and Justin Waldek’s groundout made the score 3-2. DeRubeis then deposited a pitch over the leftfield fence for what proved to be the game-winning hit.
“He’s been solid all year for us, puts the ball in play and came up with a big shot there,” Pacelli said.
While Brereton came on in relief and tamed the Trumbull bats, Darien chipped away with a run in the fourth and sixth, and got a runner on in the seventh, but Nemchek persevered. He gave up seven hits and walked three, but countered that with six strikeouts and a gutty will in what has become a typical performance.
“It’s what he’s done all year,” Pacelli said. “He will battle through, strand runners, he gets out of jams, he’ll battle through a few walks and his slider was working great today. He’s tough.”
Darien, which was the FCIAC regular season champion for the second straight year, will look at this spring not as an endpoint but part of the continuity in a community that has proved many sports, even in the same season, can flourish.
“It’s been historic,” Scott said. “For this town it’s been historic. You look at what this group was able to do. You go back to the beginning of the season when nobody was talking about the team, nobody gave us much of a chance to be a contender. They certainly left a legacy for others to follow. Not just in the way the success was but in the approach they brought to this field.”
Meanwhile, the Eagles move on, glad not to have to worry about the Blue Wave for 10 months.
“Darien had a great team this year and Coach Scott did a great job once again,” Pacelli said. “One great team was going home today. I’m glad it’s not us.”