Darien edges New Canaan 3-2 in rivalry baseball game
Darien’s Sean O’Malley and New Canaan’s Zach Lopez will be teammates on the Salve Regina baseball team next year. Judging by the way they performed in the latest rivalry game between their two high schools, the Seahawks are getting two terrific baseball players.
O’Malley doubled in Justin Jordan with the go-ahead run, and Wave starter Henry Williams won a thrilling pitchers’ duel with Lopez, as Darien defeated New Canaan, 3-2, Monday at DHS.
The game was befitting of two playoff contenders, and both coaches were happy with the way their teams performed.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do against your rival,” New Canaan head coach Geoff Lambert said. “You’re supposed to come out here and play the best baseball that you can and we did. It was just a couple of mistakes in the first inning and that was the determining factor in the game.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Darien, which is now 13-4 overall and 10-3 in the FCIAC. New Canaan fell to 9-7 overall and 7-5 in the FCIAC. Both teams have already qualified for the state playoffs and are in the thick of the conference tournament race.
Darien head coach Mike Scott said controlling emotions is key to playing in the rivalry.
“Try to keep the emotions in check,” Scott said. “We know it’s going to be an emotional game, the guys know each other, and we’re rivals. We have a good, healthy rivalry here. The message is to keep the emotions in check, play your game, and trust your preparation. I think we did a really good job of that today.”
The game had a playoff feel, with fans filling the bleachers on both sides and students crowding on the hill beyond the centerfield fence.
“We had a great atmosphere here,” O’Malley said. “We don’t usually get too many people here but it felt like the whole school was here, and it was New Canaan, so we’re always going to bring the intensity. Overall, it’s just a great game to play in every year.”
Both starting pitchers gave their teams great efforts.
“We had two really good pitchers going today,” Scott said. “Both got into a little bit of trouble and both were able to work out of some jams. Both of them threw really well today and it was a really tight ballgame. We expected there would be a playoff atmosphere and that’s what we got today.”
Williams pitched six innings and allowed two unearned runs on three hits, walked four and struck out nine, with Jordan earning the save with a clean final inning. Jordan fanned two and ended the game with a strikeout.
Lopez also pitched six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits and one walk with seven Ks. He had a stretch of eight straight batters retired, keeping the Rams within one run of the lead over the final five innings.
“I think he even got stronger as the game went along,” Lambert said of Lopez. “His velocity increased as the game went along and that makes his breaking ball even harder to hit. He’s our ace and I didn’t expect anything else from him coming into today’s game.”
Darien grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Jordan and Williams started the engines with back-to-back singles, and O’Malley’s fielder’s choice groundout put runners on the corners.
Harry Rayhill followed with an RBI single, and then two passed balls allowed O’Malley to score the second run.
New Canaan answered in the top of the third, scoring twice without the benefit of a hit.
Mike Tuffy led off and reached on an error and stole two bases Jack Lisecky and Frank Ramppen both walked with one out to load the bases.
Nate Bozzella then walked on a 3-2 pitch to force in a run, and Kyle deMayo hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, plating Lisecky with the tying run.
New Canaan did a good job working the count against Williams, who threw 100 pitches during his six innings.
“These guys are really good at that,” Lambert said. “They take a lot of pitches, we battle in the box and we foul off a lot. I think we got his pitch count up to 90 or higher and Zach was still pretty low. We work on that in batting practice.”
The Wave responded quickly in the home half of the third. Jordan led off with a bunt single and two batters later, O’Malley hit a double to center, with the speedy Jordan scoring all the way from first to put Darien ahead 3-2.
“He threw me a fastball low and away,” O’Malley said. “Zach’s one of my good buddies. He’s a great pitcher. He’s going to be one of my roomates next year (at Salve Regina) and I’ve been working with him for the past few years. He’s a really good kid, a great pitcher and he can really work the mound.”
Being able to get back in front in the half-inning after New Canaan tied the score allowed the Wave to regain the upper hand.
“That was huge,” O’Malley said. “Henry did a great job the whole day keeping us in the ballgame, and we just got the timely hit. I’m happy it was me but it could’ve been anybody on our team.”
“They had put two up to tie us,” Scott said. “They tied us up without getting a hit and that could’ve set us back. But Justin gets on and Sean comes through again with the big hit. We rely on him to have a good swing and he connected and found some green pasture out there.”
Lopez stranded O’Malley with a fly out and a strikeout, starting a run of eight consecutive batters retired by the Ram pitcher.
New Canaan threatened in the fourth as Ben Sarda and Tuffy singled to put two on with no outs. Williams retired the next two batters, but then walked Frank Ramppen to load the bases. He then ended the threat with a strikeout.
The Rams’ Griffin Arnone singled with one out in the top of the fifth and advanced to second on a groundout, but again Williams stranded the runner.
That was the final New Canaan base-runner, as Williams and Jordan each had 1-2-3 innings to end the game.
For both teams, the FCIAC playoff hunt goes on. New Canaan hosts Ridgefield on Wednesday and then plays at St. Joseph on Friday, while Darien has its bye on Wednesday before playing at Westhill Friday.
For the Wave, it’s a nice little break after they played five games in five days last week.
“At the end of the week, we were running on empty,” Scott said. “But we knew we had New Canaan on Monday and if we can’t get up for a team like New Canaan, there’s no team we can get up for. Even after two tough losses on Thursday and Friday, we knew we had a game we’d be ready for and to come out with the win is even better.”