Demons edged by Fairfield
For the second year in a row, the Fairfield baseball will sit atop the Southeast Conference, but it took a marathon to wrap up the crown.
The Trojans (24-7, 12-3 in conference play) were locked into two duels on Thursday night at Washington (14-12, 6-7 in conference play), but pulled out both games with seventh-inning rallies, taking game one against the Demons 5-4, before forcing extra innings in game two, coming away the eventual victors, 15-11.
“It’s a good feeling,” Fairfield head coach Jacob Allison said. “These boys have been working hard in the offseason and in the last few years. It was a thing we had kind of set, and our goals were to have fun and play together as a team and we thought things would take care of themselves. It proves it with a conference championship, but we need to prove that we aren’t done yet.”
The Demons were fighting to stay in the conference title conversation in the doubleheader, coming into the games only two games back of the Trojans, but ended up just short of the mark in both games, leaving a total of 15 runners on base, with 10 left in scoring position.
“This is one of the more difficult doubleheaders I’ve been a part of,” Washington head coach Nathan Miller said. “It’s hard to swallow. We played well enough in both games that you could see yourself sweeping and being in a tie for first place headed into tomorrow, and we walked away not winning a game.”
Fairfield struck first in game one, with Jordan Reid leading off the game with a single, coming around to score on back-to-back passed balls.
Washington answered the run in the third inning, with back-to-back RBI hits by Walker Breard and Elijah Wood, giving the Demons a 2-1 advantage.
Reid tied the game up with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, before things got wild in the seventh.
Alex Christensen led off the top of the seventh with a homerun to break the tie, and then Reid came up big with an RBI triple. Joseph Hietpas singled in Reid to give the Trojans a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh, where Washington wasn’t ready to give up.
Cole Embry notched a pinch-hit single to lead off the inning, then Tanner Knupp hit a shot into the right-center gap for a triple, trimming the lead to two. Jacob Green reached on an error that scored Knupp, but Fairfield’s Cameron Baumann buckled down to strike out the next two batters.
Dakota Kron singled to put two runners on for the Demons, but a strikeout ended the ballgame, giving the Trojans a victory.
“They really believe in each other,” Allison said. “They know that everybody has everyone else’s back. That really showed tonight as we went through those tough stretches there. We have some great leadership amongst the boys. We’ve had a couple games where we’ve had to keep battling back, and they reverted back to those experiences.”
Washington had chances in the game, including a bases-loaded opportunity in the first inning that came away without any success.
“We didn’t take advantage of a few mistakes in the first game,” Miller said. I thought our kids battled tremendously back and forth with them, and we had opportunities. We had a few defensive mental breakdowns where we didn’t get to a few balls that bit us, but we gave ourselves a shot to win in that seventh inning, and that’s the kind of attitude and effort we are looking for.”
In game two, the bats were rolling for both teams.
After both teams put up six runs in the fifth inning, the Demons held an 11-8 lead going into the seventh inning.
The Trojans seemed to find new life in the top of the seventh, as Austin Gridley connected on his second homerun of the game to lead off the inning to spark a rally. Two Demon errors and a single ended up bringing two runs home for the Trojans.
“(Gridley) took a real good swing but we still had a two-run lead,” Miller said. “Then there was a ground ball that looked routine, but it suddenly took a kick left and it cause the ball to go behind him.”
Gridley, pitching in relief for Fairfield, gave up a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, but struck out the other three batters of the inning to send the game to extra innings.
Fairfield put its first two runners on in the eighth, but no runs came across, then Gridley struck out the Demons in order sending the game to the ninth.
The Trojans exploded for four runs in the ninth, including a two-RBI double by Gridley (his seventh RBI of the game).
The Demons put runners on second and third, but Micah Harris struck out three to close out the sweep.
“Sometimes baseball just punches you right in the gut,” Washington head coach Nathan Miller said. “There’s no real reason for it, and that’s what I felt like tonight. You can’t let these two types of losses affect the rest of the way. We have beaten a lot of good teams and have played a lot of good teams. The breaks will come our way, and hopefully before the season is over.”
The Demons will travel to finish a suspended game against Keokuk on Friday. When play resumes, it will be the second inning, with the Chiefs up 5-0. The Demons may be out of the conference race now, but will need to rebound quickly from these tough losses with playoffs beginning next Friday.
It’s extremely important (to have a short memory),” Miller said. “That’s one of the nice things about baseball is we get to play more often, so you get the chance to turn the page and restart. I like what we’ve done over last three weeks, and this week was tough but we’ve played well enough to win all three games, but haven’t come away with wins.”
Fairfield will continue its season at Grinnell on Monday night.