New-look Darien softball team eyes another successful season
2017 was a dream season for the Darien High School Blue Wave softball team. The Wave, which wasn’t on anyone’s preseason radar, put together a 16-4 regular season record that culminated in an FCIAC championship, the first for the program since 2012.
“Everything just broke our way as we were going down the stretch to the postseason,” Darien head coach Nick DeMaio said. “No one picked us to even go to the playoffs so the girls were a little bit motivated by that last year.”
With the graduation of several key seniors — most notably pitcher Sophia Barbour, shortstop Cassidy Schiff and second baseman Kristen Picard — this year’s incarnation of the Blue Wave might be even more of a dark horse than last season’s squad. Although Darien has six returnees with varsity experience, almost all of them will be taking on new positions.
“It’s going to be a completely different look,” DeMaio told the Times. “Even more so this year, I think things have to break right for us. It’s a completely different team, so it’s really a work in progress.”
Foremost among the veterans are senior tri-captains Keilani Caruso, Hailey King and Stefani Gentile.
Caruso, who has played first and second base at the varsity level since her freshman year, will step into the circle as Darien’s primary pitcher. Although she is not a pitcher by trade, DeMaio said, Caruso’s track record bodes well for future success.
“If she had a choice, I don’t think she would have chosen to be the pitcher, but she’s doing it for the team,” DeMaio said. “She is an outstanding athlete and trains very hard all offseason long. She has been a starter since she has been a freshman. We love having her in the role of captain. She will make it work.”
King moves from the outfield to the infield this season and brings a combination of power and speed to help jumpstart the Darien offense.
“Hailey is probably our fastest runner,” DeMaio said. “She will be our leadoff hitter.”
Gentile will patrol Darien’s outfield in 2018, having been a key member of the Wave program for three years and with a knack for coming through in the clutch.
“Stefani is a softball player through and through,” DeMaio told The Times. “She’s been in the program since her freshman year and over the last two seasons has had some big, game-winning hits for us.”
Sophomore Rosali Pirone returns as a key starter for Darien after manning right field for the Wave last season. This year Pirone will shift to the infield, giving the Wave another experienced glove on the dirt.
“Defense is really what we’ve been concentrating on, because if we are going to be successful we are going to have to have good defense,” DeMaio said. “We have to get those outs in the field.”
Caroline Krueger is another player DeMaio will be counting on for on-the-field leadership. The junior catcher was one-half of a successful Wave battery last year with Barbour and will try to establish the same comfort level with Caruso this season.
Junior Sydney Fagerstrom should see plenty of time in Darien’s outfield, along with freshmen Emily Hyatt and Melanie Vernal. Freshman Madeleine Conte has impressed DeMaio so far this preseason and will shift between spelling Krueger behind the plate and playing the infield.
Freshman pitcher Grace Karas is another new face who will see varsity playing in 2018 as DeMaio will mix and match her with Caruso in the circle, depending on the situation.
“They throw differently and can give teams a different look,” DeMaio said. “Usually we ride the back of one pitcher, but this year might be one where we really use a combination of pitchers and make several changes in a game. We really have to feel our way through it.”
Despite the turnover on the field, the defending conference champ’s goals and philosophy remain the same.
“We take it one game at a time and try to win one at a time,” DeMaio said. “Anytime at the beginning of the year, the goal is to go to the postseason. Once you get there, anything can happen. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for us. We’re anxious to get started.”