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Fairfield Lions clinch sectional crown; shut out Eastern Eagles 

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The Fairfield Lions players and coaches celebrate their sectional title Tuesday at FHS. (HCP Photos/Stephen Forsha)
Stephen Forsha, The Highland County Press

LEESBURG — Overcoming some rain, a bases-loaded fourth inning and a seventh inning with two runners on the bases, the Fairfield Lions overcame those obstacles and then some as they earned a third consecutive sectional championship by defeating the No. 17 seeded Eastern Eagles, 2-0 at Fairfield High School.

The Tuesday night win by the No. 1 seeded Lions saw them battle behind the pitching of senior Gabe Fouch, who not only earned the pitching win in the sectional final, but he gained his 300th career strikeout in the second inning with a grand total of 14 strikeouts in the win. 

Fouch not only had the 14 strikeouts in the complete game, but his pitching held the Eagles to just three hits and two walks, while he also allowed no runs in the seventh-inning win, throwing 101 pitches, 64 for strikes. 

“Anytime you don’t play your best and still win, you want to think it’s a sign of a good team,” Fairfield head coach Kyle Zimmerman said. 
“There’s a lot of things we didn't do right today, especially from the offensive side. However, defensively, Gabe Fouch was stellar once again on the mound for us, and when we did need to make plays, we made the plays behind him to get us a W today.

“In the second inning, Gabe picked up his 300th strikeout of his high school career, which was fantastic, but we didn't mention it. I didn't mention it to the team or even Gabe. I'm pretty sure he probably knew, but we didn't mention it during the game because we had business to take care of — team first before personal accolades. However, it’s quite an achievement for him. It's just representative of what our pitching staff as a whole have done for us this year.” 

In the first inning, Fouch and the Fairfield defense kept the Eagles off the scoreboard with two strikeouts, and threw out the lead-off batter at second base on a steal attempt, with the Eastern player initially taking first on a five-pitch walk. 

The Lions responded in the bottom of the first with the only two runs of the game, starting with Zane Matthews taking first base on an error in right field, followed by Fouch hitting a single in a 1-1 count to right field, giving the Lions runners on first and third. 

Cade Miller then walked, Fouch stole second and Matthews scored Fairfield’s first run of the game on the ensuing at-bat on a passed ball, while Fouch and Miller each advanced a base on the same passed ball. 

After two consecutive outs were recorded, Fouch raced home on an infield error by the Eagles off a ground ball hit to the shortstop by Cohen Frost, putting the Lions ahead by a 2-0 score. 

Though the score stayed at 2-0 for the remainder of the game, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some tense moments for the Lions. 

Before some of those moments, Fouch on the mound was spectacular with a 1-2-3 second inning by forcing a groundout, a swinging strikeout and a second swinging strikeout to end the inning. 

It was another inning where Eastern was retired in order, with Fouch having three consecutive strikeouts on a total of 11 pitches. 

In the third, Fairfield’s Fouch went 1-2-3 from the mound with a groundout, a called third strike strikeout and a swinging strikeout to end the inning. 

In the fourth the Eagles earned their first hits of the game with a lead-off single, followed by another single, then two straight strikeouts, before a walk on six pitches loaded the bases. The always-clutch Fouch gained the third out on the next batter, starting with a strike swinging, followed with a second strike called by the umpire. 

The next pitch by Fouch ended the inning with the Eastern batter swinging at air for the third strike of the at-bat, and the inning ending with Fouch working out of a jam, leaving all three runners stranded. 

The top of the sixth began with a called third strike for the first out, followed by Fouch gaining the second out on a ground out back to the pitcher. The third out of the inning came on a groundout to the second baseman Cody Frost. 

Eastern put on some last-inning pressure in the top of the seventh, but the Lions overcame that obstacle. The first batter of the inning was retired on a groundout back to Fouch on the mound, only to see the next batter take first base on an error in the outfield. 

From there, the second out was recorded on a fly out to right field. The Eastern runner at first base was called safe at third base following a single to right field, giving the Eagles two runners on the bases with two outs. The final out of the game was the 14th strikeout by Fouch, who made the Eastern batter swing and miss for the strikeout, giving FHS a sectional championship. 

Each team totaled three hits in the sectional final, with Eastern committing two errors and the Lions having one error. 

“Nobody wants to have an off game,” Zimmerman said. “Hats off to Beaver Eastern. They played a fantastic baseball game tonight. They had a game plan when they come in here, they stuck to it and they executed very well. At the end of the day, we just happened to make a few more plays and had some aggressive base running that got us a couple runs, which was a deciding factor when it was all said and done.

“It's always bittersweet to play your last home game. We're fortunate enough to get that in a tournament form and plus win our third straight sectional title, so I don't want to take away from here that we're upset. We know we’ve got some work to do, however, at the end of the day, it was a fantastic, fantastic day for our ball club, and hopefully there's more to come.”

The three hits for the Lions were off the bats of Matthews (1-for-3, one run), Fouch (1-for-3, one run) and Wyatt Willey (1-for-2, a double). Miller and Corbin Willey each forced a walk. 

Dylan Morton of Eastern also had a strong game from the mound, pitching six innings, allowing two unearned runs on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts as he threw 78 pitches, 51 for strikes.

The Lions will face No. 8 seeded Ironton St. Joseph on Saturday, May 18 at 10 a.m. at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe. Ironton St. Joseph defeated Symmes Valley, 5-3 on Tuesday evening in their sectional final game. 

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FHS    200 000 x — 2 3 1

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