Team stuns Seymour and Berlin in historic wins

Leading off the bottom of the first inning against Berlin, Sam Aparicio crushed the second pitch for a home run and the Darien 10-and-under softball All-Stars, and District 1 champions, were on their way to making history.

In defeating perennial state powerhouses Seymour by the score of 8-3, and Berlin 21--10, the Darien U10 team accomplished what no other Darien softball team had previously done before at any level: win two games in the Connecticut Little League sectional tournament.

"We made a statement at the sectionals and put a scare in the other teams," Darien manager Chris Lopiano said. "While all the other teams have been playing together for months, we took a bunch of great athletes and in two weeks taught them all we could. They worked hard, and responded on field with tremendous success. We are proud of them, and we're looking forward to even more success next year."

Darien entered the tournament after taking the District 1 championship by outscoring opponents 47-9 in its last three games. But at the next level of postseason play, the sectionals, competition was upped another notch, as teams from Orange, Seymour, Fairfield and Berlin were all district champions in their own right. Additionally, those teams' all-stars have been playing together for months in a travel league as well as the Little League regular season. By contrast, the Darien team was selected in late June and practiced for two weeks before playing in their first tournament game together.

Going into the game against Seymour, second baseman K.C. Grady said she had a good feeling. Indeed, in their defeat of Seymour, Darien put it all together: superb pitching, timely hitting, aggressive base-running and spectacular defense. Supported by tremendous defensive plays, Aparicio held Seymour to three runs by giving up six hits and striking out seven -- and not giving up a walk.

In five of the six innings of play, Seymour put their lead-off batter on base with a base hit, and each time Darien would respond to with a great play or strikeout to quell the scoring threat. In the first inning, third baseman Jess Carlo and catcher Emily Gianunzio combined to complete a double play and throw out cutoff a runner at the plate.

In the second inning, Carlo was hit by a pitch, Zazi Fee legged out a bunt single and Leela Krishnan reached on a walk. With the bases loaded, Hannah Lopiano lined a single to right to clear the bases and give Darien a 3-0 lead. In the third, Darien scored another run when Aislinn Florio lined a single to right and later scored when she stole home. Seymour responded with a run to make the score 4-1.

In the top of the fourth, Seymour stranded a runner on third, as Carlo made a diving catch of a line drive to end the inning. In the bottom of the frame, Darien added three runs, beginning with Krishnan and Brittany Pierce working the Seymour pitcher for walks. Grady laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Carlo crushed a double to right-center field. In the fifth, Darien first baseman Cassidy Schiff flashed the leather, as she backhanded a smash in the hole for an unassisted putout. She followed that play with a leaping catch of a line drive that was headed for the corner and extra bases.

With the score 8-1 going into the last inning, Seymour cut the deficit to five, but Zazi Fee ended any chance of a Seymour come back with an unbelievable shoestring catch of a sinking line drive to right field to end the game.

In the history-making second victory against Berlin, Darien's bats exploded for 21 runs. After scoring three in the first inning, Darien poured on 10 more in the second. And after Lopiano, Ford and Aparicio reached base on walks, Fee, Carlo and Schiff each singled, and Mia Dursht lined a double to drive in runs. With Darien up 13-4 after three innings, Berlin started to mount a comeback by putting up six runs in the fourth. Fortunately, Dursht made a beautiful running catch in left field and Schiff ended the inning with another play on soft liner in foul territory.

Darien then added two more runs in the bottom of the inning when Florio walked, Aparicio singled and Fee drove them in with a smash up the middle. In the bottom of the fifth, Darien added to their lead after Lopiano and Ford drove in runs to make the score 17-10. With a chance to end the game, Aparicio came to bat with the bases loaded and she delivered with a screaming line drive in the left center field gap for a grand slam.