STAMFORD -- As the season hits the midway point, softball teams near the top of the standings like Stamford and Warde know it is time to start thinking about playoff positioning when taking on fellow contenders.

Friday at Stamford, it was the Black Knights doing just enough in the form of a fourth inning rally to defeat Warde 3-0, moving to 9-2 overall and 8-2 in the FCIAC with Warde dropping to 9-3 and 7-3 in the league.

Stamford centerfielder and leadoff hitter Lauren O'Neill knew with two runners on and two outs in the fourth she needed to get those runs home with her team already up 1-0.

O'Neill drove an inside pitch to right-centerfield, plating two runs and giving Stamford a much-welcomed cushion.

"I knew that with runners in scoring position that it was key to get a hit in that situation," O'Neill said. "She threw me an inside pitch, so, I just cleared my hips on it and took it to right field. It's a huge win and we are glad to take it."

The first Black Knights run came across on an infield single by Tori Cuscuna, plating Sara Staley. Cuscuna and Maria Zecena both scored on O'Neill's double.

With her offense scraping out a few runs, Staley was in control all afternoon in the circle, striking out nine while giving up just four hits.

"I was using a lot of the low and outside drop balls," Staley said. "The defense did so well and it has been hard since our second baseman is hurt but (Gloria Mattiolli) stepped up and is doing such a great job out there."

Warde did not get a runner past second base but coach Gary Quiricone knows despite the result Friday his team could see Stamford again in the post season.

"When we are playing Stamford we always play hard against each other," Quiricone said. "It wasn't our day today and we will definitely see them at some point again this season."

Center fielder Brianna West went 2 for 3 at the plate for Warde.

Mustangs starting pitcher Gabriella Natoli was sharp throughout, limiting the damage to the fourth inning while going the distance and striking out four.

Stamford coach Tony Esposito said the big FCIAC victory was all Staley and one clutch hit.

"Sarah came up large," Esposito said. "We got things going at the plate and Lauren (O'Neill) got a big, big hit. If we go into that last inning 1-0 as opposed to 3-0 it is a big difference. A two-out hit like that is big. All of (the FCIAC contenders) could knock each other off at any time and this is a big win for us, no question but hats off to Warde they played very well, too and it was great high school game."

Scott.Ericson@scni.com; @EricsonSports

Stamford 3, Warde 0

WARDE 000 000 0--0 4 1

STAMFORD 000 300 X -- 3 7 0

Record: S 9-2, 8-2 FCIAC; W 9-3, 7-3 FCIAC

Batteries: S -- Sarah Staley (W) and Tori Cuscuna. W -- Gabriella Natoli (L) and Kathleen Goodchild

Highlights: S--Staley CG, 9 Ks, single, run; Lauren O'Neill 2-3, 2 RBI; Cuscuna RBI, run; Maria Zecena 2-3, run. W--Brianna West 2-3