Darien had a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in the bottom of the first inning in Tuesday's FCIAC baseball after visiting Warde had put up a crooked number on the scoreboard in the top of the frame. Among the three Blue Wave batters who sought a damaging hit, only one was able to square up a pitch on Mustangs' starter Nick Nardone.
Nardone squirmed out of that jam after Mike O'Malley smacked a line drive to first base with one out. Though Nardone could not stifle Darien's next rally in the bottom of the fifth inning, Warde had increased its lead by that time and the Blue Wave batters could not dig out of their deficit.
Billy Money then relieved Nardone with two on and two out in the sixth and closed the door in the Mustangs' 6-2 victory.
Warde, which beat Darien 7-5 on April 17 in Fairfield, advanced to the semifinals on Wednesday at Harbor Yard against Greenwich, which upset top-seeded Staples in eight innings on Tuesday.
"I thought we played an exceptional game. It was a complete game for us," said Warde coach Mark Caron, whose sixth-seeded club opened a 3-0 lead in the first inning by capitalizing on a Blue Wave infield error and C.J. Sabella's double. "We got clutch hitting, our fielding was good and our pitching was there.
"Nick gutted it out. He threw 25 pitches in the fifth. And we extended (his rest) in the top of sixth (when Warde scored two runs). I asked him about pitching in the sixth, he said yes, and he probably could've gotten through it.
"It was as hot a game as he pitched in. He made 90 pitches. He was tired, I could tell," Caron said.
The missed opportunity in the first inning was the turning point according to Darien coach Mike Scott, whose third-seeded team dropped to 15-6 on the season. The top of the first certainly set the tone for the playoff game.
"That was it," Scott said of the first inning. "We knew we had to pitch and play 'D.' We didn't do either. They made us pay. Our error prolonged the inning. They drew first blood. We couldn't find a way to answer with a big hit (in the bottom of the first).
"We didn't play our 'A' game," Scott said.
After Thomas Luckner led off the game with a triple, an infield error during the next at bat gave Warde (13-8) a 1-0 lead. C.J. Sabella smacked a two-run double to make it 3-0.
Darien's next error, on a sacrifice bunt attempt by the Mustangs in the top of the sixth inning, allowed Warde to answer one of the Blue Wave's two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Pinch-hitter Sean Home drove in the final Mustangs' run with a sacrifice fly for the 6-2 cushion.
Darien got two runners on base in the sixth, but Caron replaced Nardone with Money, who got the final out on a pop up from a change-up.
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Warde 6, Darien 2
WARDE 301 002 0--6 10 0
DARIEN 000 020 0--2 8 2
Records: Warde 13-8, Darien 15-6. Batteries: W--Nick Nardone (W, 4-1), Billy Money (6) and Anthony Miller; D--Andrew Nault (L, 4-3), Stephen Barston (4) and Anthony DiMeglio and T.J. Addiletta (4). Highlights: W--Starter Nardone gave up 8 hits and 3 walks with 2 strikeouts. C.J. Sabella drove in two runs. Anthony Miller went 2-for-3. Tom Luckner went 2-for-4; D--Daley Hebert went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Pinch-hitter Jake Frasca drove in a run.