FAIRFIELD -- Allison Macari did not help her teetering confidence when she hit a foul pop up near home plate with one out and the go-ahead run on second base in the sixth inning of Tuesday's FCIAC softball semifinal against Darien.
"My hitting hasn't been real good lately," the Westhill High School first baseman said with a sheepish smile. "I thought I was out."
Instead, the ball eluded the reach of Blue Wave catcher Olivia Gozdz. Armed with a reprieve, Macari provided the boost Westhill needed and the chance Darien didn't want to give the top-seeded Vikings.
Macari responded by hitting a bullet down the left field line, driving in Julianne Vincent, and Jen Joseph survived an adventurous final inning to lead the Vikings to a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Darien at Sacred Heart University.
"I'm just happy I got a second chance," Macari said. I was just hoping to make contact, to put the bat on the ball. I guess I got lucky."
On a field where assorted unsung Westhill players have seen their profiles enhanced, Macari, a heralded sophomore, became the latest as the top-seeded Vikings (22-0) remained unbeaten and moved within a win of their third straight league title.
Darien came as close as any team this season to delivering the first blemish to Westhill's record, but the best in the FCIAC stayed alive, and the Vikings will face No. 3 Trumbull in a rematch of last year's final on Thursday afternoon.
Jessica DeMaio (16-5), the sophomore who has flourished in her first season as Darien's starting pitcher, allowed just four hits, and during one stretch retired 13 straight batters.
But she also provided the Blue Wave's only offense with her game-tying RBI single in the fourth. It was the first run scored against Westhill since April 28, a stretch of 11 games.
"I thought it was going to be a one-run game, or close," said Darien coach Nick DeMaio, whose team suffered a 1-0 loss to Westhill eight days earlier on Eileen Tublin's walkoff base hit. "I think the difference was we were a little tight in the first few innings and put some poor at bats up there. My team is young and Westhill stayed calm. They have been in these positions before."
Westhill went ahead in the first inning when Vincent singled through the left side, was sacrificed to second by Brittany Horn, who had two critical bunts in the game, and scored on a throwing error as she went to third on the play.
After DeMaio's hit in the fourth, the game stayed tied until Vincent opened the seventh with a single to right-center and moved to second on another perfect bunt by Horn. That set the stage for Macari, who followed in the footsteps on the SHU field of Tublin and Hannah Goldstone, who had the game-winning walkoff hits in the last two FCIAC championship games.
"We stepped up when we needed to," Macari said. "It still hasn't hit me yet. I just keep playing how I have been. It was a nice time to have my first hit in FCIACs."
Westhill coach Tom Pia had a sense Macari was on the precipice of a big play.
"When Allison hit that first (foul) ball you could hear me yelling, `Don't get it, don't get it,' " he said. "On the next pitch she opened up her hips a little earlier, got the head of her bat out and just ripped it."
While Macari delivered the most dramatic moment, the Vikings' quest to become the first team to three-peat since Norwalk won four straight championships 29 years ago was an ensemble effort.
Joseph, who long ago proved herself impervious to pressure, yielded just three hits and an unearned run. After an error helped No. 4 Darien (17-5) put the tying run on third base with two outs in the seventh, Joseph hit Emily Moscatello, the No. 9 hitter.
Joseph came back to strike out Gozdz for the third time, improving to 19-0.
"I was just throwing her outside all game," Joseph said. "That was the game plan, and I was getting it outside farther and farther. I was confident."
Joseph retired the side in order just three times and on four occasions pitched to batters with runners in scoring position, but never wavered.
"It's nice to have someone on the mound who doesn't get rattled," Pia said. "Her demeanor is always the same."
Vincent, who has been the Vikings' catalyst all season from the leadoff spot, had two singles and scored both times. Center fielder Allie Souza added the drama by making a diving catch on a sinking fly in the sixth to rob Courtney Bell of a hit, a play that loomed even larger when Kelly Fahey followed with a base hit.
Darien will find out where it is seeded and who it will play Friday afternoon, when the state tournament pairings are released.