Darien defeats Westhill for second straight FCIAC championship
FAIRFIELD -- The Darien High School softball team was not lacking for incentives in Saturday's FCIAC championship game against Westhill, though they came from different emotional levels.
The Blue Wave were looking to avenge one of their two league losses, a one-run decision to the Vikings on April 13.
More importantly, they were attempting to become the first repeat champion in the sport since ... Westhill in 2008-09.
"During the regular season we played well against them," said Blue Wave third baseman Courtney Bell. "And repeating was one of our big goals."
With Bell helping to lead the way, the Blue Wave pounded out 14 hits -- five for extra bases -- made several outstanding defensive plays and withstood a game comeback attempt to come away with a hard-fought 8-5 win at Sacred Heart University.
"The plan was to try and put pressure on them in every inning and to try and have good at bats in every inning," said Darien coach Nick DeMaio. "Westhill is a good team. We had to challenge them."
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Bell was named the game's most valuable player after finishing with two hits and four RBIs. Her three-run double in the fourth inning helped stake the No. 2-seeded Blue Wave (20-3) to a 7-2 lead, and she later made the unsung defensive play of the game in the 7th.
Leadoff hitter Erika Osherow had three hits and scored three runs, Emma Hamilton added three hits and made one of two outstanding catches in the outfield, while winning pitcher Jessica DeMaio and Olivia Gozdz added two hits apiece.
The contest, featuring DeMaio and the Vikings' Allison Macari, the league's two best pitchers, was surprising in that it figured to be low scoring.
"We work on hitting a lot," Bell said. "We've seen her before; it's not like it was the first time. She's a great pitcher, but we have confidence."
The top-seeded Vikings (20-3) were playing in their fourth conference final in five years but lost for the second straight time.
"They hit the ball," Westhill coach Tom Pia said. "Not only that but they made a couple of big plays in the outfield."
Cassandra Kish and Macari each had two hits for Westhill, which made Bell's play in the seventh all the more critical. The Vikings had chipped away, scoring a run in the fifth when Tammy Wise tripled and came across when Osherow robbed Megan D'Alessandro on a grounder into the hole at shortstop.
Kish and Macari led off with singles in the sixth and each scored, on Emily Spoto's base hit and Brittany Bautista's bunt.
"One of the things this team has going for it is they don't worry about it, they keep fighting back," Pia said.
Darien added a critical insurance run in the top of the seventh when Osherow tripled and scored on DeMaio's base hit.
With one out in the bottom of the inning, Morgan Kurtz drew a walk, bringing up Allie Souza. With Kish and Macari due up next, Bell knocked down a hard grounder by Souza and recovered to throw out the speedy leadoff hitter.
"Allie ripped that at me and I was close in," Bell said. "But we made a couple of big plays in the field."
In the bottom of the third, Kelly Fahey made a great running backhanded catch in the left-centerfield gap to take an extra-base hit away from Macari. Two innings later, Hamilton made a nearly identical play in right-center against Souza.
"I was really pleased with our defense," Nick DeMaio said. "We got a little margin, but we knew they were coming, and when they came fortunately they didn't come far enough."
Darien used three hits, including two doubles, to take a 2-0 lead in the 1st, but Macari's double in the bottom of the inning made the score 2-1.
Gozdz walked with the bases loaded in the second for a 3-1 advantage, but D'Alessandro tripled and scored on an errant relay throw to again make it a one-run game.
That was until Darien put together three hits and took advantage of a pair of errors to score four times in the fourth.
Bell, who lost an 11-pitch battle in her previous trip to the plate, got the best of Macari with the bases loaded.
"I was really determined to get up there and the first pitch looked good and I took it," Bell said.
Macari was effective keeping the game as close at it was; Darien left 11 runners on base. But the Blue Wave had too much punch on this day.
"We practice so much day-in and day-out, there's so much repetition, and in these games you see it come out," Hamilton said. "(Macari) is really good, but you have to block that out of your mind. This just feels really good. People say how hard it is to go back to back. We showed this year and last we deserved it."
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DARIEN 8, WESTHILL 5
DARIEN 210 400 1--8 14 1
WESTHILL 110 012 0--5 7 3
Records: Darien 20-3; Westhill 20-3.
Batteries: D--Jessica DeMaio (W) and Olivia Gozdz. W--Allison Macari (L) and Tammy Wise.
Doubles: D--DeMaio, Gozdz, Courtney Bell 2; W--Macari. Triples: D--Erika Osherow; W--Wise, Megan D'Alessandro.