DARIEN -- Undoubtedly, walk-off hits are as joyous an occasion you will find in baseball. And yet when Daly Hebert laced a game-winning double to left field Monday, the prevailing feeling at Darien High School was pure relief.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, Hebert knocked in two runs to send No. 7 Darien (16-6) past No. 26 Stratford and into the second round of the Class L tournament. As a result, the Blue Wave will host No. 10 Avon Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., while the Red Devils (9-12) ended their season, moments after standing three outs away from extending it.
"You've got to love this to a point ¦ But this wasn't good," Hebert said of the final frame. "We need to play at a higher level if we want to compete in states. And right now we're not playing to that. What we're going to have to do is come prepared for (Avon) and step up our game."
After striking out seven batters in six shutout innings, Darien starter Ames Murray walked the bases loaded around two early outs and gave way to reliever Andrew Nault. Nault, who normally serves as a starter for the Blue Wave, promptly surrendered a four-pitch walk and cut his team's edge to 3-1. Next, he induced a slow roller to second, which recorded as an RBI infield hit following a controversial safe call at first.
Now trailing by only a run, Stratford sophomore Jon Brooks left no room for doubt in his at-bat by lifting a go-ahead, two-RBI double to right field. Stratford pitcher Jack Duffy was then cut down at home plate by a strong relayed throw from Connor Davey, which ended the Red Devil rally. In the subsequent half-inning, Duffy hit the first two Darien hitters, before offering up a fateful fastball to Hebert.
"I give them a lot of credit. They didn't quit," Stratford coach Mickey Buckmir said of his team. "They gave it their best shot. They got back in the game, took the lead and then a good ballclub came back on them."
Buckmir, who served as an assistant under Darien coach Mike Scott three years ago, spoke to the Blue Wave post-game to offer his congratulations. Meanwhile, Scott offered an honest, but understanding view of his players' late-inning performance.
"These are still young players that are learning to compete and learning to compete when the games on the line," Scott said. "We gave them a few too many opportunities in that last inning, put a few too many guys on. We had some walks, a couple tough plays and they made us pay. But at the same time, they gave it right back."
In the second inning, Blue Wave center fielder Mike Maccarone smacked two-RBI double to right-centerfield to get Darien on the scoreboard. Freshman Casey Brown added another run-scoring double in the third.
Darien 5, Stratford 4
Stratford 000 000 4--4 5 1
Darien 021 000 2--5 7 0
Records: Stratford 9-12; Darien 16-6. Batteries: S--Jack Duffy (L) and Jonathan Brooks; D--Ames Murray, Andrew Nault (W) (7) and Anthony DiMeglio.