DARIEN – The way Darien’s Henry Williams and Trumbull’s Ben Fero were throwing the baseball today, it was quite easy to predict the final score of this FCIAC quarterfinal playoff game.
Why 1-0, of course.
Exactly how Darien produced the 1, well, now that’s another story.
Fero pitched a no-hitter . . . and lost.
Williams pitched a one-hitter and won thanks to the one unearned run the Blue Wave were able to manufacture in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“We knew it would be a 1-0 game and we were lucky enough to get the breaks,” Darien coach Mike Scott said after his team advanced to tomorrow’s semifinals.
Had the bottom of the sixth not unfolded as it did, Williams and Fero might still be going at it.
“Fero was outstanding but Williams pitched a great game, too,” said Trumbull coach Phil Pacelli. “It’s a shame, we should’ve been out of the (sixth) inning.”
Williams struck out 10 and walked none. He allowed two baserunners: a first-inning single by Kevin Bruggeman and when he hit Luke Masiuk with a pitch in the fifth.
“Fero was awesome and I was efficient,” Williams said. “But this is how we’ve been doing it all year: with pitching, defense and capitalizing on mistakes.”
Fero, meanwhile, was perfect through five innings before disaster struck. There were no mixed emotions, however, after throwing a no-hitter in defeat.
“I don’t care about individual stats,” he said. “We lost.”
The fateful bottom of the sixth began when Darien’s Harry Rayhill hit a chopper on the artificial turf field right at Trumbull’s sure-handed shortstop Chris Brown. It turned into a short hop, one that Brown probably fields cleanly 99 times out of 100 — when he is on dirt.
But the ball bounced higher than expected on the turf and Rayhill was safe on what was ruled the first of two critical errors in the inning by Brown. Both plays had to be ruled errors but perhaps each deserved an asterisk attached.
“I trust my defense, I love them,” Fero said. “Those errors were not his fault.”
The Eagles (13-8), like most FCIAC teams, are used to dirt infields. That’s why Darien’s 4-0 win over Trumbull on April 11 — ultimately ensuring the Blue Wave (15-6) of a first-round home game — proved critical.
“We definitely had a home-field advantage,” Scott said of his team’s spot as the No. 4 seed in the eight-team tournament against the No. 5-seed Eagles. Darien will meet No. 8 seed Fairfield Ludowe, which upset No. 1 Ridgefield 18-3 today, in the semifinals at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium. “We know when to attack a grounder.”
“This,” added Pacelli, “was only our third game on turf. That’s why home-field advantage is so important.”
After a sacrifice bunt by Justin Van de Graaf moved pinch-runner Nicky Briganti to second, Fero retired the next batter on a fly out. Up stepped Justin Jordan and on a 3-2 pitch, he tried to check his swing on a pitch in the dirt.
Swing or no swing is always a tough call for an umpire and while it appeared to some that Jordan’s bat did cross the plate, the pitch was ruled no swing after a conference between the three umpires.
“I don’t think it was a swing but it was close,” Jordan said. “So I figured I walked and headed to first.”
Had Jordan not immediately ran to first, Briganti would have stayed on second and would likely not have scored on the ensuing play. But Briganti wisely took third while Trumbull catcher Kevin Bruggeman was throwing to first, figuring it was strike three on the pitch in the dirt. Pacelli, and most fans on the Trumbull side, disagreed.
“The call didn’t go for us,” Pacelli said. “There’s not much more to say.”
Fero also refused to be critical.
“They were great umps,” Fero said. “You can’t blame them.”
Next came Brown’s second “error” of the inning. Fero induced Williams to hit a soft liner to short where it looked as if Brown would have no trouble grabbing it in the air for the third out. But then he slipped on the turf and was forced to lunge for the ball and failed to come up with it, allowing Briganti to score the game’s lone run from third, ruining Fero’s no-hit performance.
“Fero was tremendous,” Scott said. “He had his breaking ball working and we didn’t get too many good swings. We were just lucky our guy was just as good.”