Darien's team had outscored its first three baseball opponents by a cumulative 26-1. The host Mustangs, who entered the game at 2-2, couldn't have expected an easy time against the 3-0 Blue Wave in Fairfield. Thursday morning's school-vacation battle was close, and the Wave didn't make things easy. But Darien somewhat had itself to blame for its first blemish of the spring.
Warde capitalized on four errors, a balk, three hit batsmen and four walks to ride a five-hit effort to a hard-fought 7-5 win. Darien sliced a 6-1 deficit down to 6-4 but couldn't overcome its mistakes and Warde's clutch hits.
"It's your typical FCIAC battle between two teams that I think will be in the [FCIAC playoffs] this year," Warde coach Mark Caron said. "What I was proud of was every inning they grinded and battled," said Caron, adding that his team scored in four of the frames and threatened throughout the game.
"We didn't let up."
Ahead 1-0 in the third inning, the Mustangs pushed across four runs and held off a few Darien rallies.
The Mustangs scored in the first inning when Michael Foley was hit by a pitch leading off. He advanced to third on a single by Giacomo Brancato, then scored when Brancato took off for second base as part of a designed play to get into a rundown and to allow the runner from third to break for home. The run arrived when Darien pitcher Andrew Nault was called for a balk.
Thomas Luckner's bunt single in the third inning led to a run when a wild Darien throw to first enabled Brendan Miner, who had been hit by a pitch, to score for a 2-0 lead. Later in the inning, Brancato smashed a three-run double to left for a 5-0 cushion.
The Blue Wave got a run in the top of the fourth on Conor Davey's RBI single, but Warde got the run back in the bottom of the fourth. Foley blasted a double deep to left and later scored on an error to make it 6-1 Mustangs. Foley reached base four times and scored three runs.
The Wave wasn't about to fade. Darien loaded the bases against Warde starting pitcher Reece Maniscalco with one out in the fifth. Daly Hebert blooped the ball to shallow right and Warde outfielder Luckner made a diving catch. The Mustangs believed base runner Michael Maccarone left the base without tagging up. He was called out. But the umpires met and overturned the call. Maccarone was ruled safe on the sacrifice fly, making it 6-2.
The Blue Wave had new life.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Mustangs created a little breathing room on a couple of miscues by Darien. Brancato singled, took second on a ground out and scored with two outs when a pickoff attempt at second sailed into the outfield and the ball was bobbled on a two-error play.
Darien got back to within two in the sixth, at 7-5, when Maccarone singled, stole second and scored on a double by Brendan Donohue with one out. Warde reliever Nick Nardone, who had started the inning, escaped further trouble by inducing a pair of ground outs.
"It was just a very intense FCIAC battle right there. Two teams just really wanted to come out of this one with a win," Darien coach Mike Scott said. "They made us pay for our mistakes."
The Mustangs loaded the bases in the sixth but couldn't score. Darien had its seventh and final hit of the game in the top of the seventh when Reed reached on a pop fly double being lost in the sun. Nardone ended it by recording three straight outs, two on strikeouts.
"Nick's definitely not afraid of a big moment," Caron said of his reliever.
Scott, although disappointed with the errors, was pleased with his team's determination to fight back. "When we're down a couple of runs, we think we have the offense to come back from that," Scott said.
Andy Hutchison is a freelance reporter