Williams and pitching staff lead Darien baseball in 2019
One’s first inclination when considering the 2019 expectations for the Darien High School baseball team is to look at the seven starters who graduated last spring from the team that won the FCIAC championship.
Yes, the glass isn’t even half full now.
And yet, despite what some coaches might refer to as a rebuild, there still appears to be plenty of reasons for the defending champs and coach Mike Scott to be feeling optimistic right now.
“We are excited for the opportunity to defend our 2018 FCIAC championship,” said Scott, who is beginning his 11th year at Darien.
The championship last season was not really a shock as the team was loaded with talented veterans. Darien defeated Staples 7-4 in eight innings in the FCIAC final last May to earn its second league crown in three years after going 35 years without one.
Unfortunately, the season then ended prematurely in the Blue Wave’s next game. Darien, hoping for an extended run in the state playoffs, got knocked out in the first round of the Class LL tourney, 7-3 by Danbury, to finish the season 17-7.
That season-ending defeat, however, couldn’t take away from the Blue Wave’s accomplishments, and may actually provide this year’s bunch with added motivation. But with a new season upon them and so many familiar faces gone, Scott knows that with the FCIAC considered as one of the most competitive leagues in the state, repeating will not be an easy task.
“We expect the FCIAC to be tough this season and we know we will have the target on our backs as the defending champions,” Scott said. “So, we will be tested every game and will need to come out and compete to the best of our ability each and every time we take the field.”
Replacing seven starters is never easy, but Scott would prefer to consider what the Blue Wave have coming back, rather than the players who have moved on. The group of departed seniors from last year includes All-FCIAC players Justin Jordan and Sean O’Malley, and All-FCIAC East performers Justin Van de Graaf and Arthur Xanthos. Jordan and O’Malley were also key players on the 2016 FCIAC championship team.
The main reason to believe this team can contend for another championship in 2019 is the presence of senior Henry Williams, another 2018 All-league star who will be pitching at Duke University next season. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound right-hander was probably the top pitcher in the FCIAC and one of the best in the state last season while compiling a 0.98 earned run average with 69 strikeouts. Williams was also a force at bat with 15 RBIs, 12 runs scored and five doubles in 24 games.
Williams did not pitch in the FCIAC final last season and then got the start in the state tournament opener. He did not last five innings in the upset loss and this season is likely to be determined to wipe away the lone blemish from 2018.
“Henry will be leaned on throughout the season as our front-line starter, and shortstop,” Scott said. “(Senior third baseman) Mac McLean and Henry return to the left side of our infield and will bat toward the top of our order.”
With Williams leading the way to go with an inexperienced group of position players, the Blue Wave will rely heavily on pitching.
“Our pitching staff appears to be the strength of this team,” Scott said. “If these kids pitch to their strengths, we could be in position at the end of the season to return to the postseason tournaments.”
The pitching does indeed appear to be deep. After Williams, Scott will turn to senior right-hander James Louis, who saw considerable action on the mound last season. Louis posted a 4-1 record last season and should be a key contributor for the Blue Wave in 2019.
“James will enter the season as our No. 2 starter on the mound,” Scott said. “He is poised to have a major impact.”
As for the rest of the staff, Scott has four junior pitchers with promise: Righties Tim Bellingham, Rob McMullan and Alec Stephens, and lefty Liam McLaughlin. Another arm to watch out for is freshman righty Karson Drake.
The main concern, of course, is the team’s lack of experience, aside from Williams and McLean, and figuring out the rest of the starting lineup.
“Out starting lineup is largely to be determined,” Scott said. “So we have multiple guys who are competing. I expect our lineup to evolve throughout the season and the guys are competing together to earn their chances.”
“Our team will feature a lot of new faces around the diamond and in the lineup, and the players are excited to step up and take advantage of their opportunities.” — Darien head coach Mike Scott