BY ETHAN LILLARD
FAIRFIELD- Never underestimate your opponent, a saying that has been engraved in the minds of any person who has every competed in athletics.
For a Fairfield squad that wrapped up the regular season ranked inside the top ten in Class 3A, it was easy to have a big head. Also boosting the Trojans’ egos was the first-round matchup of the Class 3A Substate 5 District 10 bracket against a Fort Madison squad they had defeated four out of four times during regular season.
Despite coming in as a heavy underdog Friday night, Fort Madison put Fairfield against the ropes early on. The Trojans didn’t roll out with their ace, figuring they could handle the Hounds with ease.
That was a mistake.
Starting pitcher Jackson Weaton was pulled after just one inning, thanks to the Bloodhounds getting the bases loaded with no outs in the top of the second.
The situation forced the hand of Fairfield’s head coach to put Kosta Papazogolou, the team’s ace, on the mound to keep the Trojans’ postseason hopes alive. The game continued to be a back-and-forth affair, but errors ended up plaguing the Hounds hopes of the upset, as Fairfield went on to win by the final of 7-4.
“These kids are amazing,” Fort Madison Head Coach Ron Walker said of his team. “We come out and have 15 losses on the year, five of those losses are to the No. 6 ranked team in the state (in Fairfield), that’s 33 percent of our losses. We just kept getting tougher and tougher on them every time we met them out there.
“Their coach said, ‘You’ve got a great group of kids there and they play the game the right way.’ I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Weaton drew the start and it appeared as if the Trojans made the correct move in saving Papazogolou’s arm. After back-to-back outs to start the top of the first inning, Jordryn Gerdes was hit by a pitch to put the first runner of the game on the base paths.
Brandon Beichelt followed with a walk in the cleanup spot, before a double from Vasin Thurman brought in Gerdes to give Fort Madison the 1-0 lead.
Fairfield responded in the home-half of the inning, getting its first runner on with an Austin Simpson walk. Cole Engle then reached base safely on an error, before another error on a throw down to third trying to catch Simpson on a steal resulted in the ball getting to the outfield and scoring Simpson to tie the game at 1-1.
“That’s growing pains of a young team,” Walker said of the errors. “That’s just something for us to remember, you can’t give the good teams extra outs and expect to win.”
Two straight walks from Landes and Kane Williams to start the second inning led to Reed Fehseke getting hit by a pitch back at the top of the lineup to load the bases for the Hounds with no outs. That’s when Fairfield decided to make the pitching change to their ace in Papazogolou.
Despite the change on the mound, Fort Madison plated two more runs thanks to a Gerdes sacrifice fly and Kane Williams scoring on a wild pitch to give the Bloodhounds a 3-1 advantage.
Back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom of the second helped the Trojans to plate a run and cut the lead to 3-2.
Fort Madison continued its one pitch at a time approach at the plate, starting the third inning with a walk from Vasin Thurman, before Dayne Cordray singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Tate Johnson came up with a sacrifice pop out the next at bat, giving the Bloodhounds a 4-2 lead in the top of the third inning.
“We were finding fly balls for sacrifice flies, we were competing with two strikes in the box and really did a great job,” Walker said.
It took Fairfield until the bottom of the fourth inning before they were able to grab their first lead of the game.
Three singles, two doubles and a sacrifice pop fly were instrumental in helping Fairfield come up with a four-run fourth inning, allowing the Trojans to grab the 6-4 lead.
Fort Madison intentionally walked Simpson in the bottom of the sixth inning with two outs, before a Engle double brought in Simpson for the final security run, putting Fairfield’s lead at 7-4.
Papazogolou wasted no time putting the game away in the top of the seventh, retiring three straight batters on strikeouts for the 7-4 win.
“The team did excellent,” Walker said. “Great group of kids. We talked about the season overall. There was a lot of turbulence throughout the season with several different issues. Not only things that were out of our control, but I had some personal things. The kids stuck together and trusted in what we did and beared with me and kept believing. They did a great job. Take your hat off to the kids, I’m very proud to have been able to coach them.”
Fort Madison wraps up its 2019 season with an overall record of 16-15, the first time the Bloodhounds have finished over .500 in more than 15 years.
Johnson, Vasin Thurman and Gerdes each had an RBI for the Hounds. Cordray was hit with the loss, throwing 97 pitches over his five innings of work. Cordray gave up 10 hits and five earned runs while striking out three. Gerdes came on in relief and threw just 15 pitches over his one inning, giving up one hit and one earned run.