DARIEN — A year ago, the Darien High School and Westhill High School softball teams were battling in the FCIAC Softball Championship final with the Blue Wave taking home the crown.
On Friday, the programs met again with neither side having any hopes of making the 2018 FCIAC playoffs.
Graduation losses hurt Darien a little less and the Blue Wave celebrated their Senior Day by conquering Westhill, 5-1.
“This was a key victory. Our eighth win qualified us for the Class LL state tournament. It’s our program’s 11th straight year in the postseason,” said Darien’s veteran coach Nick DeMaio. “That was important. And this rematch of the 2017 FCIAC final gave this game a lot of meaning.”
DARIEN HAS GOALS TO ATTAIN
The triumph improved Darien to 8-9 overall and 5-8 in the FCIAC. The Blue Wave entered having lost five of its last six contests.
Darien entered the game ranked No. 26 in Class LL. The Blue Wave has three road clashes left (at St. Joseph, Norwalk and West Haven) to try to improve its seed. In all likelihood, Darien will be taking bus rides throughout its state tourney run.
After Senior Day ceremonies for Darien’s three seniors (Hailey King, Keilani Caruso, Steph Gentile) and Westhill’s lone senior (Annalise Fishell), the Blue Wave took a 3-0 lead after two innings.
Sydney Fagerstrom ripped an RBI double while E’sachi Smalls had a sacrifice fly in the second.
Darien settled the issue with two runs in the fifth, scoring on a double steal and winning freshman pitcher Grace Karas’ two-out RBI single.
BLUE WAVE SENIORS SET THE TONE
Darien seniors King, Caruso and Gentile are important in the top half of the batting order and they stabilize the defense.
But leadership and the experience of being a part of two FCIAC titles is their biggest contribution to the Blue Wave’s fortunes in 2018.
“Seniors bring confidence to the dugout and to the group,” Darien coach DeMaio said. “That’s what four years of experience do.”
“As freshmen, Kaelani and I were pinch-runners. We learned our roles and we watched how the rest of the group brought home championship banners,” King said. “We watched how each group of seniors established a mindset for teams. We’ve tried to model our leadership after that. Today we made it clear this rematch of the FCIAC final was important.”
Senior Day (last home game) is not a favorite for coach DeMaio.
“These three seniors are so special. So involved and so committed to softball,” DeMaio said. “So many hours spent together in and out of season. Fall ball. Winter workouts. Four years of this. That’s why I miss these kids so much when they go. Credit to their parents they are such good kids. Senior Day is a sad day for me.”
WESTHILL WORKS TOWARD FUTURE
Westhill (2-15, 2-11) will learn from this season’s mistakes and have brighter rewards down the road with this young squad.
“We get better each week. We have little mistakes that cost us. We do all the things. We just have to put it all together,” Westhill coach Tom Pia said. “We need to get another win to come out with that extra energy.”
Lone senior Annalise Fishell had a two-out RBI single in the fourth for the Vikings’ only run.
“If you looked back over time, Westhill would be one of the top five softball programs in the state,” Darien’s DeMaio said. “They will be back. It just takes time. They played with heart and intensity today.”
DARIEN 5, WESTHILL 1
WESTHILL 000 100 0—1 4 2
DARIEN 120 020 x—5 8 1
Records: Darien 8-9, 5-8 FCIAC. Batteries: W—Fran DeLeo (L) and Maddy Cortell. D—Grace Karas (W) and Caroline Kreuger. Highlights: D—With this win, Darien qualified for the Class LL tournament.