NORWALK -- Norwalk Junior Legion pitcher James Stumpf said he's always more relaxed on the mound when staked to an early lead. The more relaxed he is, the better he can focus.

On Thursday at City Hall Field, Stumpf focused in from the comfort zone produced by a 10-run first inning cushion to deal his first no-hitter, compiling 12 strikeouts in a full seven innings en route to Norwalk's 15-0 drubbing of Darien-New Canaan.

Stumpf whiffed seven of nine batters during an early stretch and allowed only one base runner--a walk to start the third--through the first six innings, before three got aboard in the seventh on an error and two walks.

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And while the Norwalk hurler encountered little resistance from Darien-New Canaan's lineup, Stumpf's complete-game no-no bid was momentarily in question late in the game, as Norwalk head coach Gerald Anastasia toyed with the notion of pulling him at the end of the fifth inning.

"We were up by plenty," said Anastasia, whose team improved to 12-4. "We've got a game on Saturday and James is a field player too. But I said he could stay in until he gave up a hit."

Reacting to the specter of getting the hook being raised, Stumpf shrugged and grinned.

"I just went out and kept throwing strikes," he said.

The same fortunes on the mound did not come so readily to Darien-New Canaan starter Brendan Cronin, whose club dropped to 6-8. Cronin used 43 pitches to get through Norwalk's 10-run outburst in the first, surrendering six hits in the inning--including RBI doubles by Mark Ballard and Chris Cotaling, and Andrew Seiden's double that plated two. The first inning also saw Cronin yield three walks, permit a run on a wild pitch and witness his defense commit four errors, as Norwalk sent 14 batters to the plate.

"It wasn't our best performance," Darien-New Canaan head coach Mike Patrona said. "We're capable of playing better than that. You play bad against Norwalk and you're going to pay."

Patrona credited Stumpf for keeping Darien-New Canaan's batters off-balance.

"He was throwing hard. And then he would come off-speed. He was excellent," Patrona said.

After Norwalk tacked on four runs to start the third--on a pair of walks, two passed balls and singles by Nick Lampman and Matt Downey--Cronin was relieved by Brendan Donahue, who promptly retired Norwalk in order and would finish the game, allowing just one run in the fifth on Tyler Anunziado's RBI single.

Seiden and Downey paced Norwalk's offense, each going 3-for-4. Ballard and Lampman--each with a hit and two walks--scored three runs apiece.

Unfazed by his teammates' disdain for superstition--notably, an across-the-board failure to observe the tradition of not mentioning that a no-hitter's in progress for fear of jinxing it--Stumpf strode out to the hill in the seventh to finish what he had started.

"Everybody in the dugout was talking about [the no-hitter]," Stumpf said. "It didn't bother me."

For a moment, though, it appeared it might have, when Darien-New Canaan began the seventh putting two men on base. But a pick-off at second and a quick strikeout put Stumpf back on track to face Liam Naughton, who took a 2-2 fastball for a called third strike, then watched the Norwalk bench clear as its pitcher was mobbed on the mound.

Garrett D. Uribe is a freelance writer from Fairfield County

NORWALK 15, DARIEN 0

NORWALK 10 04 010 0--15 11 1

DARIEN 000 000 0--0 0 6

Records: Norwalk 12-4; Darien 6-8.

Batteries: N--James Stumpf (W) and Matt Downey. D--Brendan Cronin (L), Brendan Donahue (3) and Daly Hebert.

Doubles: N--Mark Ballard, Chris Cotaling, Andrew Seiden.