DARIEN -- Every march to an FCIAC Championship starts with a single step.
The Darien High School girls softball team -- with equal parts of angst and character -- made that very tentative first step Wednesday as the Blue Wave overcame a trio of comebacks to finally outlast Danbury High, 9-7, in the FCIAC playoff quarterfinals at the Blue Wave field.
"First round playoff games are always tough," said a relieved Darien head coach Nick DeMaio. "Fairfield Warde took us to eight or nine innings before we beat them in last year's playoff quarterfinals. But the thing is, if you can win this game, you can win any game."
No. 2 Darien (17-3), the defending champion, will have to wait for its FCIAC semifinal round matchup. The quarterfinal clash between No. 5 seed Fairfield Ludlowe and No. 4 seed Norwalk was played on Thursday, but the result was not available at press time.
While it affords Darien a chance to scout opponents live, it means that the FCIAC softball semifinals will now be Friday at Sacred Heart University with the FCIAC final set for Saturday at SHU. Westhill and St. Joseph will battle in Friday's other semifinal.
Wednesday's battle was the complete opposite of the regular season meeting between the schools where Darien's Jessica DeMaio no-hit Danbury, 3-0 back on April 27.
The Hatters had their hitting shoes on Wednesday as they pounded out 12 hits on the afternoon. Danbury (14-7 overall) rallied from deficits of 4-0, 5-4 and 7-6 to forge a 7-7 deadlock in the top of the sixth.
The key for the Hatters was Kara Orr's three-run homer over the left field fence in a four-run fifth inning.
Darien's offense did what it had to do against both Danbury starter Mary Sigillo and Orr, who relieved with two outs in the fourth.
The Blue Wave, with the help of aggressive baserunning, pecked away with two runs in the second and third innings, one run in the fourth along with two in the fifth and sixth frames.
Darien sophomore Julia Domiziano singled to left to lead off the sixth and was sacrificed to second by Brittany Osborn. Speedy pinch-hitter Kelly Vodola followed with an infield hit to put runners at the corners. Vodola stole second. Domiziano scored and Vodola moved to third on a wild pitch. Vodola scored on Erika Osherow's grounder to third to make it 9-7.
Danbury did not go quietly. Marissa Ferguson and Jess Oliveira (three hits) opened the seventh with singles. But DeMaio showed the right stuff inducing two strikeouts and a groundout to keep Darien in the FCIAC title hunt.
"I made adjustments to my motion after the homer in the fifth," DeMaio said. "You have to have confidence in the big moments. You have to realize you've been there before. This game showed the character of both teams."
Danbury will await the state tournament.
"I'm proud of our effort. But frustrated by all the little things we didn't execute," Danbury head coach Harry Trohalis said.
Darien 9, Danbury 7
DANBURY 000 241 0 -- 7 12 2
DARIEN 022 122 X -- 9 10 1
Records: Danbury 14-7; Darien 17-3.
Batteries: Danb -- Mary Sigilio, Kara Orr (4, L) and Michele Jones. Dar -- Jessica DeMaio (W) and Olivia Gozdz. HR -- Orr (Danb).
Note: Darien will play the winner of today's Ludlowe at Norwalk contest in tonight's FCIAC semifinals.