Pitching, D look strong early

Coming off the best season in program history, the Darien Blue Wave softball team isn't content to let last year's group have a legacy all to its own.

"We are comparing ourselves to last year," head coach Nick DeMaio said. "The program is going to build off that. We want to get back to that state final and we want to win it."

Darien finished with losses to only two opponents in the FCIAC last year -- St. Joseph and Wilton -- en route to finishing 21-4 overall, far and away the best mark softball has ever had.

But to build upon what that group did last year, it's going to take more than just muscle memory: The team is the youngest DeMaio has ever coached.

"It's the youngest we've had as a whole that I know of," he said.

Leading this team is co-captain Nicole Buch (shortstop) and Michelle Piccaro (right and centerfielder). The team lost five seniors from last year's team, and that includes the head coach's daughter, Christina DeMaio, who was a forceful, effective pitcher.

But it remains a family affair at the pitching point -- Jessica DeMaio, Nick's niece, will be the starting pitcher. She'll be backed up by sophomore Kelly Nicoletti.

"In softball, for our team, those five were key players, especially the pitchers," DeMaio said. "And if you've got one good pitcher you ride her, and Jess will hopefully carry us." Now this young team has just two seniors, and one of them is currently injured. That leaves Piccaro as the only elder stateswoman in the starting lineup.

Speaking of that lineup, it will likely look like this: Buch batting first; second baseman Emily Blosio; catcher Olivia Gozdz; third baseman Courtney Bell; centerfielder Piccaro; first baseman Kelly Fahey; DeMaio; freshman left fielder Emily Moscatello; and freshman right fielder Emma Hamilton.

The Blue Wave has the most reliable gloves in Buch and Bell, but DeMaio said his team's defensive abilities "are far beyond what you'd expect and ahead of the curve and overall pace" from a team that's dominated by freshman and sophomores.

On the base paths, Buch is the fastest -- she will most definitely be the team's X factor this year -- but Gozdz is right on her heels. Darien may try to manufacture runs with those two's speed; it may have too.

There was an irony to the start of this season. In its opener, Darien defeated Masuk 1-0 on a no-hitter from DeMaio. Masuk was the school that had risen in the national rankings the past four seasons thanks to its phenom pitcher, Rachele Fico, who is currently at LSU on scholarship after shattering Connecticut high school records.

But there wasn't enough offense -- hardly any -- for DeMaio's liking in that game.

"The young group had some poor at-bats, and we had to manufacture the one run," he said. "This is what we're going to have when we have this situation. It's going to have to take more than just a run, though."

And while the weather as of late has been great, he was worried about it getting too warm too early. "[Against Masuk] the weather was actually too warm," DeMaio said. "The girls were sweating a lot. The body needs time to acclimate this. You'd love to see temperatures in the high 60s right about now."

But all those other teams -- the Stamford troika of clubs are always tough, along with Trumbull and St. Joseph -- are dealing with the weather and something, arguably, even hotter right now: a young team that looks to be nearly as good defensively with potential to score runs like last season. DeMaio should have the pitching to overcome the unpredictability of this team's youth.