When the Darien softball team, along with St. Joseph, was mentioned as a primary contender to win the FCIAC title in the preseason, it did not seem like an unrealistic expectation.
In a town where lacrosse dominates in the spring and softball was once mostly an afterthought, the program has skyrocketed since 2008, when the Blue Wave won 15 games. There were 19 wins and a trip to the state final the previous year. Darien won consecutive conference titles the past two years, the first in school history.
With their recent past, and the highly touted sophomore Erika Osherow moving to pitcher, the Blue Wave appeared an obvious favorite with St. Joseph, which had the main nucleus of its lineup returning.
The teams met Saturday afternoon with two losses apiece. The Cadets, whose defeats were each by one run, came away with a 5-1 victory and look very capable of winning their first FCIAC championship since 2007.
Meanwhile, the Blue Wave slipped to 2-3 and have given up 26 runs in their three losses. Moments after the game, coach Nick DeMaio met with his staff before talking to his players. His mood was a combination frustration and disappointment.
Is it panic time in Darien? It is early in the season, but it is becoming apparent that the team is a victim, through no fault of its own, of being hyped too much based on reputation. The No. 2-5 batters in last year’s FCIAC final win over Westhill graduated. Osherow is only in her first varsity season as a pitcher and the transition, as with all young players, is taking time.
Darien sophomore pitcher Erika Osherow.
DeMaio admitted, at least for the time being, he may have to alter his approach with the players.
“I think so. Part of it is the pressure we put on kids,” DeMaio said. “At this point they are just not prepared for this emotionally.”
Osherow, who had an outstanding rookie season at shortstop, has the tools to be a top pitcher but right now is struggling with her command. The expectation is that she will soon find her groove and develop into as dominant a player on the mound as she is at the plate.
Centerfielder Emma Hamilton is the Blue Wave’s most experienced player and one of the league’s top hitters. But most of the rest of the lineup — six underclassmen are starting — are players either being thrust into bigger roles or starting for the first time.
It doesn’t mean the pieces won’t eventually come together, but they aren’t there yet. DeMaio is going to do what he can to expedite the process.
Asked if he was worried, DeMaio said, “Yes and no. I think it is time to change a few things and move some things around, but you are walking a thin line and you don’t want to give up so soon.”
While the Blue Wave have not played particularly well in any one area, there losses have been to the Cadets, Westhill and Masuk, three top teams. All but the Masuk game were competitive.
“We’ve had a tough schedule,” DeMaio said. “Three of our five games have been tough ones. With a young team, it hasn’t allowed us any time to get into a rhythm.”
With three-fourths of the regular season remaining, there is plenty of time for the Blue Wave to find their groove.
Whose on first? Baseball parity breeds confusion
I filled out my ballot for the state baseball poll this morning, and as usual, in the second week of the season, it was an exercise in futility. It is too early. But unlike in football, which gets such tremendous publicity that rarely does a 2011 Norwalk team sneak up on you, or basketball, which also receives the microscope treatment, state-wide baseball information is harder to tap into.
Then again, it probably wouldn’t matter. As I will attempt to do in the next section, how would you currently rate the top three teams in the FCIAC?
Andrew Casali is one of the top players for the New Canaan baseball team.
Right now eight teams currently have one overall loss, and there does not look like a pretender in the bunch. Only three teams are winless.
Baseball, more than any other sport in the FCIAC, has seen bottom four seeds win league titles as often as the top over the last decade. One hot pitcher can get you by the first round.
It is less unusual for a team or two to dominate through the regular season, but based on the early returns of contenders — Wilton has defeated Ridgefield, which defeated St. Joseph, which defeated New Canaan, which defeated Trumbull —the top seeds this year may very well have more losses than at any time in recent memory.
Top of the order
1A. GREENWICH (4-1): The balance is so pronounced right now we are putting three teams at No 1 (and you could easily make a case for three others. The Cardinals will have to earn this spot next week: they have to play Ridgefield, St. Joseph and Wilton.
1B. ST. JOSEPH (4-1): We put the Cadets here based on a win over unbeaten New Canaan and a four-game winning streak.
1C. NEW CANAAN (4-1): Two normally reliable people for information told me during the preseason the Rams were vastly overrated. I was skeptical. Right now the reliability of the two has taken a knock.
1. FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE (5-1): The Falcons have five straight wins and had quality victories over St. Joseph and Greenwich last week.
2. DANBURY (4-0): A source that knows the sport and has seen many of the top teams assured me the Hatters will win the FCIAC title this year. If pitcher Kara Orr gets healthy, no reason why that cannot happen.
3. WESTHILL (3-1): Tough choice here between the Vikings and St. Joseph. Giving the nod to the ladies in purple based on the way they have been hitting, 1-9 in the order, thus far.
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