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The wait is over: Fairfield district champions for first time in over 2 decades

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The Fairfield Lions players and coaches celebrate their district championship Monday at VA Memorial Stadium. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Stephen Forsha, The Highland County Press

CHILLICOTHE — Twenty-two years of frustration without a district championship ended on Monday afternoon for the Fairfield Lions baseball program. 

Having a nine-run second inning in their Division IV Southeast District Final game against the Racine Southern Tornadoes, the Lions finally climbed their way back to the top of the SE District as they were the ones who controlled every aspect of the game at VA Memorial Stadium, defeating Racine Southern, 11-1 in five innings. 

Getting possession of the district championship trophy was a two-plus-decade wait for the Lions, but it also was an accomplishment for a group of players who hadn’t had the outcome they wanted the past two seasons in the district finals at the same stadium in Chillicothe. 

Use all the cliches needed following this game, as the Lions finally got the monkey off their back, they learned from past losses, or quite simply, they dominated the district final game to stamp their ticket to the Division IV Regional Semifinals next Thursday. 

Once all was said and done the Lions were the champions of the SE District, something that hasn’t rung true since 2002. 

“Before the game, we talked. I pulled them out of the dugout, I went over by the batting cages and I told them two key factors. Number one, one of two things is going to happen today. Either they're going to take your dreams, or you're going to take theirs,” Fairfield head coach Kyle Zimmerman said. “And secondly, nothing good can happen when you're holding back. We knew when we took the field today, we were going to have to hit the ball, produce runs. Racine Southern is a fantastic ball club, and we were ready today. That's what happens. I've said it all along, when we hit the baseball like we did today, we're going to be tough to beat.

“I would love to sit here and take all the credit for it, but I truly believe it comes down to one factor, and that is maturity. We did practice last night. What I told the boys then was look, this is now the third time in a row we're coming to this ballgame. We're not new to it. The hard work is over. You've got to get to the game in order to play it. We accomplished that. I've had guys that are on this team now that started in this game as sophomores, so you know, it's comfortable. Paints Stadium is comfortable for us. That's why we play here. But we still had to make it happen. But once again, if you want to narrow down to one key thing, I do believe it's maturity.”

Following a scoreless first inning by the Lions and Tornadoes, the bottom of the second is where the game changed from being scoreless to the Lions leading by nine runs.

Blaine Fauber was the first baserunner of the inning for the Lions with a five-pitch walk, and after an out was recorded, Fauber stole second base and went to third on a bunt single by Corey Zimmerman. Fairfield’s first two runs came off a base hit to left field by Zane Matthews, as the line drive single scored both Zimmerman and Fauber for the 2-0 lead.

That was only the beginning of the Lions scoring against Racine Southern.

Then came a huge triple — his second of the district tournament — by Gabe Fouch, sending the ball to centerfield to score Matthews. Cade Miller followed with a six-pitch full-count walk, while he took second base on a defensive indifference. Next was a two-RBI single off the bat of Corbin Willey, scoring Fouch and Miller for a 5-0 advantage. 

There were still more runs to be added in the second inning, with the Lions having Cody Frost reach first base on a fielder’s choice, forcing Willey out at second. Wyatt Willey singled to keep the inning going, moving Frost to third base, and Wyatt Willey took second on another defensive indifference. Fauber batted again in the second, this time singling to left field to score both Wyatt Willey and Frost for a 7-0 lead. 

Another run was scored as Carson Chandler tripled to centerfield, scoring Fauber for an eight-run advantage. There was still room for one more run in the inning, with Chandler scoring on a passed ball for the 9-0 lead. 

The inning eventually ended with a fielder's choice, as Fairfield sent 15 batters to the plate in the inning, totaling nine runs, four walks, five singles, two triples and a hit by pitch, all against two pitchers, for a total of 57 pitches in the inning. 

Southern scored a run in the top of the fourth for a 9-1 score, but the Lions doubled that feat in the bottom of the fourth for a 11-1 lead. The Lions had Matthews score on a wild pitch, followed by Fouch scoring on a single by Miller. 

Fairfield finished the game with starting pitcher Fouch getting two outs via strikeout and groundout in the top of the fifth. After a walk was issued, Fouch forced a groundout to first baseman Corbin Willey, who ran to first base for the final out, raising his arms in victory, as the Lions celebrated the long-awaited district championship and a trip to the regional round. 

Zimmerman talked about how special and personal the district championship is for him. 

“There's been a lot of great coaches before me. I coach against a lot of great coaches in the SHAC, but for me to bring this team here with three relatives on it, and to perform like we did tonight on a pretty big stage, I don't know how I could ever put it into words,” Zimmerman said. “Gabe Fouch and Cade Miller are my nephews, and obviously Corey is my son. 

“We’ve got 10 days off now, so we've got to go back and prepare to do some research on who our possible future opponent’s going to be. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. We have to continue to play baseball like we know how to play the game and perform at the level that we have to perform at, at this stage of the game. If we can do that, we're going to make Leesburg proud.”

For all the offense by the Lions — they collected 14 hits and forced five walks — they were led by Corbin Willey, who had a three-hit performance, finishing 3-for-4 with two RBI, followed by three teammates with two hits each. 

Matthews was 2-for-3 with two runs, a HBP, a steal and two RBI. Fouch finished 2-for-3 with two runs, one RBI and a walk. Wyatt Willey was 2-for-4 with a run. 

Miller went 1-for-2 with a run, one RBI and two walks. Frost was 1-for-3 with a run and HBP.  Fauber finished 1-for-3 with two runs, two RBI, a steal and a walk. Chandler was 1-for-3 with a run and one RBI. Zimmerman finished 1-for-2 with a run and one walk. 

After all of those numbers, the pitching performance was impressive as well. 

Fouch pitched five innings, allowing an unearned run on three hits and three strikeouts, with six strikeouts. Fouch threw 74 pitches, 48 for strikes. 

“This was a solid performance from Gabe, and once again, I'll go back to our veteran pitching staff and maturity. Gabe didn't throw the typical game you’d think he would throw today, but these guys have gotten to the point where now they'll trust the defense behind them, and they know they don't have to fan everybody when they come to the plate,” Zimmerman said. “They can put it in the defense's hands, let the defense make the outs for them, and they can throw less pitches, stay healthier and continue to bounce right back whenever we need them.”

Fairfield will play in the Division IV Regional Semifinals on Thursday, May 30 in Lancaster at Beavers Field vs. the winner of the Northwest 6 bracket (their district tournament will be held on May 22 and 24) at 6 p.m. 

The Northwest 6 bracket consists of Sycamore vs. Attica Seneca East and Greenwich South Central vs. Plymouth, as both games will be on Wednesday, May 22. The Northwest 6 District Final will be on Friday, May 24. 

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