DARIEN — Henry Williams got stronger as the game wore on.
The 6-foot-4 ace pitcher for the Darien baseball team allowed a run in the beginning and at the end of the game but in between he was solid to the tune of five shutout innings as he helped the Blue Wave emerge with an 8-2 victory over Danbury in the FCIAC quarterfinals today at Darien.
Thanks to Williams, the third-seeded Blue Wave (13-8) advanced to the conference semifinals for the fifth straight year and will take on No. 2 Fairfield Ludlowe, which topped No. 7 Fairfield Warde, 5-4, in nine innings, on Monday at Cubeta Stadium.
Williams went 6 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits with nine strikeouts, two walks and he hit a batter. He was aided by three double plays.
“The first or second innings I was getting the nerves out of there,” said Williams, who is 4-2 this season. “We had prom last night so we weren’t sure how everyone was going to come out today but in the fourth and fifth innings I felt really strong and the defense got stronger and the bats got going.”
The sixth-seeded Hatters (12-8) struck first in the top of the first inning when Javon Hernandez (2-for-4, 2 runs scored) showed off his speed. A third strike got away from catcher Ben Olson, who fired to first to record the out, but Hernandez alertly took off for home and scored on the play to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Danbury head coach Shaun Ratchford said Williams was better than his ace, Justin Solimine, and the Blue Wave played small ball to great effect.
“We get a run in the first inning and you think with one or two runs and Justin on the mound he usually makes it stand up,” said Ratchford, whose squad beat Darien during the regular season. “Today (Solimine) wasn’t as sharp and Williams had nine strikeouts and they turned three double plays. Give them credit.”
Despite falling behind, Darien never wavered and countered with three runs in the bottom of the first off Solimine (5-2) to grab the lead for good.
Mac McLoughlin led off with a walk and Williams followed with a single. After a strikeout, Devyn Kipphut came through with an RBI base hit and Glen Fay had a bunt RBI hit. Kipphut eventually scored from third on a wild pitch.
“We got really good at-bats from the guys in our lineup and we really made Solimine work today,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “He’s a heck of a pitcher and we made him work today, which wasn’t easy.”
Solimine ran into trouble in the third inning when Kipphut walked and, after a strikeout, Nicky Briganti singled and James Louis walked to load the bases. Kipphut got cut down at home by catcher Jake Matson when he corralled a wild pitch, and it appeared Solimine might escape the jam but he walked Olson to reload the bases.
Aaron Sears, the No. 9 hitter, came through with an RBI infield hit and took second on an errant throw by the shortstop to put Darien ahead by four runs. Olson eventually scored to give the Blue Wave a 6-1 lead before Solimine recorded a strikeout to end the inning.
Sears (2-for-2, 2 RBIs, sacrifice bunt) actually snapped his bat on the key hit with the barrel going flying toward the visitors’ dugout.
“Every time I go up there I just try to clear my head, try not to think about it too much and don’t make too much of the moment like Coach says,” Sears said. “I’ve never seen a broken metal bat in my life before, I don’t know how it happened. We hung it up in the dugout after that as a good luck charm.”
Scott praised his ace pitcher because the Hatters certainly had their opportunities to score, but in the third, fourth and fifth innings the Blue Wave turned double plays to keep Danbury off the scoreboard.
“That’s absolutely huge,” Williams. “When you’re struggling with your location a little bit and you get a groundball, you can trust them to get two for you. I know they were unhappy they made a few errors behind me but they made up for it almost immediately.”
Darien tacked on two more runs in the fifth on another RBI infield hit from Sears, who eventually scored on an error.
Williams allowed two straight hits in the seventh and was lifted for lefty Trace Florio, who gave up an RBI double to Justin Hope (2-for-4) before retiring the next two to end the game.
“It’s three years in a row Henry has beaten a team in the FCIAC quarters,” Scott said. “He shut them down really well.”