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Saturday, October 20 High School Sports

BASEBALL: Darien does all the little things to stay on top

NFA was bringing its ace in UConn-bound Tyler Briggs to pitch against Darien.

The star pitcher was solid, allowing no runs on just two hits but when he came out to start the fifth, Darien was able to put up the one run it would need to win.

That win over NFA was the first of five-straight victories for the Blue Wave, three of which have been shutouts, moving them to 5-1 on the season.

While Darien pitchers Justin Jordan and Henry Williams may not have come in with the same pedigree of Briggs, it was the two Blue Wave hurlers allowing just one hit while striking out a combined nine batters in that game.

It perfectly summed up every Blue Wave team in recent seasons.

No superstars, no elite prospects but rather a bunch of players dedicated to doing their jobs and pitchers intent on throwing strikes.

Jordan and Williams are joined in the rotation by Jackson Vaught and Justin Van de Graf with a plethora of bullpen arms as well.

The depth at pitching has been a staple of Darien’s success on the diamond.

“It has been ok the last couple of years,” Darien coach Mike Scott said. “These guys are experienced and all had big innings for us last year. We are counting on our experience to give us a chance. Those guys on the hill will give us a chance to win this year.”

The run that they scratched out in the fifth against NFA was evidence of how the offense can get just enough for the pitchers to thrive.

Back-to-back walks followed by a well-executed sacrifice bunt set the stage for Williams who put together a quality at bat before singling to right field, driving in the only run.

The team can also pound the ball and is heating up even before the weather does.

After the team bet Greenwich 9-2, Scott told Hearst CT’s Anthony Parelli: ““We’re definitely getting better,” Scott said. “We’re improving, but we haven’t peaked. It’s nice to get a couple wins while you’re on the way to hopefully peaking later on down the road. It was a good team win today.”

If Darien is playing this well before they “peak,” what lies ahead for their opponents could be scary.

The team-first approach has the Darien baseball program here to stay.

In a town that is rightfully known for its lacrosse team that dominated the state for the last 20 years, the baseball team under Scott has become perennial contenders for the FCIAC baseball crown.

This season is no different and the recipe for success is no secret.

Pitching, defense and clutch hitting.

With Jordan batting leadoff, the Blue Wave have a speedy table setter with a penchant for getting on base.

“I just want to get on base any way I can,” Jordan said. “We are more of a pitching and defense team. When we can get timely hits it means a lot but I have to do a good job getting on base for that to work.”

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When Jordan is not pitching, he is patrolling centerfield as a top defensive outfielder.

“I think Justin is the best defensive outfielder the FCIAC has,” Scott said “He can be lights out on the mound and he can be a spark at the top of the lineup. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him but we need him to set the table and lead us. He’s the catalyst and the one we need to get that line moving.”

With Jordan in center, Van de Graf and Williams have the middle infield secured when they are not pitching.

Williams has been the most consistent hitter thus far but the strength of the team lies in different players stepping up every game.

If the middle of the order lacked some pop early on, that changed when DH Sean O’Malley returned from a hamstring injury this week.

O’Malley was an All-FCIAC player a year ago and is one of the best power hitters in the state.

His return has helped extend the lineup and let fellow heart-of-the-order slugger, first baseman Harry Rayhill, do some damage.

Rayhill has provided some power in the middle of the order, including a home run against Greenwich Monday.

The last piece, and often the most overlooked, is Darien’s ability to put quality catchers behind the plate.

This season, that is Arthur Xanthos who follows in a long line of solid defensive backstops for the Wave.

Since winning the FCIAC championship in 2016, that has become the standard to reach every season.

“That’s the goal. We have set the FCIACs as an expectation now and we hope these guys will continue that trend,” Scott said. “Nothing is given and we have to go out and earn it every day.”

The next goal after that would be the team’s first trip to a state championship game.

That is not an unrealistic idea in Darien anymore.

Sericson

@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports

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