LAGRANGE – It took Wawasee and Fairfield 52 combined outs to get one run. The waiting was sweet for Fairfield, however, as it walked off with a 1-0 win at the Class 3-A Lakeland Baseball Sectional late Thursday night.
In a game filled with blown opportunities and two coaching staffs shaking their collective heads most of the night, Fairfield finally broke through in the bottom of the seventh to get the one run it needed when it counted most.
The final at bats for the Falcons had Chandler Miller open the seventh with a double deep to center. Jordan Geyer was intentionally walked, and Bentley Miller laid down perhaps the most important bunt of his career to push the runners up a base. After Braden Garrison was given a free pass to load the bases, Peyton Faldoe cracked a single passed the drawn in infield to move Fairfield into Saturday’s semi-finals as the clocks struck 11 p.m. LaGrange time.
“First off, hat’s off to Wawasee, they just battled tonight,” said Fairfield head coach Darin Kauffman. “We got ourselves in some jams, made some baserunning mistakes, but a lot of these guys are playing in their first sectional. And for Faldoe to get that base hit, that is huge for him. He hasn’t played baseball since the sixth grade. We’ve been making a lot of strides, pitching and defense saved us.”
Wawasee will talk about what could have been for a while. Putting two runners on in the seventh with just one out, Kameron Salazar hit a towering fly ball to left. Jake Crousore, who drew a walk earlier in the inning, was caught in no man’s land as the ball fell between two Falcon defenders. But rather than breaking towards third, Crousore was just a few steps off second. The throw went to third for the force out. A 375-foot bomb by Jacob Garcia became just a harmless F-8 in the book to end the threat.
Wawasee also left runners on the corners in the sixth, two on in the fourth and had Salazar thrown out at home in the first on what could only be described as perfect execution by Fairfield’s relay after Garcia ripped a double into deep right-center.
“This game was so much like so many games we’ve played in and lost during the season,” said Wawasee head coach Brent Doty, whose team finishes 9-16 overall and just 1-9 in its last 10. “We had so many games where we are in it, leading it, then we have one really bad inning and that’s that. We had a loss like that to Northridge, Goshen, Concord, so many. This one was like those, where we had so many chances and couldn’t make it work.”
Fairfield also had their share of offensive troubles. Faldoe looked like he would be the game’s first run in the third, cracking a double and then advancing to third on a bad Wawasee relay throw. As the ensuing throw skipped to the fencing behind third, pitcher Carter Woody was backing up and fired a rocket to catcher Parker Young, who waited on Faldoe to take several steps before tagging him out well in front of home plate.
The Falcons also had two of its runners thrown out at a base in the fourth on a relay throw and a pick-off to end a threat.
“”We are very, very fortunate that those baserunning mistakes didn’t cost us a sectional,” Kauffman said. “We’re young, and when you make mistakes like that, usually that will put a team out. But credit our defense, they kept us in the game enough to have a chance in the seventh.”
Faldoe will always remember the hit, but Westin Stutzman was a workhorse for Fairfield. He pitched 6.1 innings, allowing six hits and striking out 10. Woody was equally good, if not better, for Wawasee in striking out nine, ending four innings with a strikeout. Fairfield didn’t have a runner actually reach base until the fourth as Faldoe’s double and subsequent out at home was the only Fairfield offense through three innings.
“You can’t say enough about Carter,” Doty said. “Let’s put it in perspective. The kid is 15 years old pitching in this environment. Just a sophomore. That’s a heckuva performance. And it’s deserving of him because he’s always working in the offseason, working on his craft. He’s a competitor, too. Just can’t say enough about his performance tonight, and it reflects well on the 12 seniors we have and the leadership they showed, which shows in guys like Carter and how well he played.”
Fairfield’s (15-11) win sends them to the semi-finals to take on Northeast Corner Conference rival Lakeland in Saturday’s second game. Lakeland (21-5) reached the semis after a laborious 7-3 win over West Noble (8-13) in the day’s first contest. Tied in the fifth, Lakeland pieced together a pair of hits, and had Coby Mitchell drive them both home with a single. Kyler Bowers added a two-run blast in the sixth for some insurance. NorthWood (20-4) and Tippecanoe Valley (7-15) will play in the first semi-final, a 10 a.m. first pitch.