It is a simple fact of the diamond that the struggles of summer baseball are far different than those facing ballplayers the spring.
There are the long nights of extreme heat, accumulated wear of dozens of games played and the general carefree nature of summer working to dull one's competitive edge.
So when the Darien 15U Babe Ruth baseball team trailed 6-0 to Newtown after only an inning and a half Monday at Holahan Field, the expectations of a home team comeback were understandably small. Then, as his club rallied, backed by shutout pitching and five runs scored, a deserved smile spread across the face of Darien coach John Miceli.
While the Blue Hawks would eventually fall short in an 8-5 defeat, their efforts pleased Miceli, who will now guide them through the final games of the 2014 season next week.
"When you're down 6-0 and you can bring the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, you take that," Miceli said. "So we were able to do that, and I'm proud of the guys. It's not easy to fight in a game when it's late in July, but we did it. So, I'm proud of the team."
Seven Darien hitters recorded a hit, including centerfielder Marck Schmidt, who clobbered a 2-RBI double as part of a three-run rally in the sixth inning. The rally's conclusion brought the Blue Hawks to within 6-5, but Newtown added on a pair of insurance runs in the away half of the seventh, the only scoring surrendered by relief pitcher Arthur Xanthos. Xanthos finished with 5 2/3 innings of work, one earned run and six strikeouts.
"He's been doing a good job all summer," Miceli said of his reliever. "He's comes in and throws strikes, and he's got a little bit of a funky arm motion, which gets guys off-balance. He mixes and changes speed. It's a good job for a guy who does both ends of the pitching and catching duties."
Outside of Schmidt, Darien catcher Cord Fox was the only other Blue Hawk to reach base twice. He also ripped in RBI single to left and came around to score. Darien middle infielders Justin van de Graaf and Chris Davey each crossed home in the third, following back-to-back singles that opened the inning.
One half-inning earlier, Xanthos shut the door on Newtown, striking out the side in order during his first full frame of work. The right-hander relieved southpaw Elliott Doll, who paid dearly for three consecutive walks after he recorded two outs at the start of the second inning. With the bases loaded, Newtown shortstop Shawn Fulton looped a 2-RBI single to right field and was ushered to second base moments later when Owen Samson walked.
Following a run-scoring error at shortstop and a hit by pitch that loaded the bases once more, Xanthos entered and promptly gave up a double to left to Tom Cotton. Cotton was then thrown out trying to advance to third, ending the inning at 6-0.
"Elliot's been great for us all year. Sometimes younger pitchers just struggle, but he's been really good for us. This one game, we can't fault him," Miceli said.
Newtown 8, Darien 5
Newtown 060 000 2--8 6 0
Darien 002 003 0--5 7 2
Batteries: N--Michael Liberante (W), Jack Moulder, Shawn Fulton (S) and Matt Carino ; D--Elliot Doll (L), Arthur Xanthos and Cord Fox. Highlights: N-- Tom Cotton went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. Owen Samson reached based three times and scored twice. D--Centerfielder Mark Schmidt smacked a 2-RBI ground rule double in the sixth inning. Xanthos totaled six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.