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Lions baseball finish season regional runners-up

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The Fairfield Lions team and coaches pose with their regional runner-up trophy, Friday at Beavers Field in Lancaster. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Stephen Forsha, The Highland County Press

LANCASTER — The historic 2024 baseball season of the Fairfield Lions came to a close on Friday evening at Beavers Field, falling to the Berlin Hiland Hawks, 18-0 in the Division IV Regional Finals.

The Hawks (25-5) — the defending Division IV State Champions — finished with 16 hits and no errors, while the Lions were held to one hit and had two errors.

“This game cannot define this ball club,” Fairfield head coach Kyle Zimmerman said. “Yes, we did suffer defeat tonight at the hands of an extraordinary team, and I'm not going to take anything away from Hiland, but on the same note, our baseball team has been very special. They've been special since the senior class was sophomores, with me stepping in as a head coach that year.

“We’ve won three straight league titles. We've been in the district finals every single year, and this year we make it to the regional finals, something that we haven't done since 1998 in Leesburg, yesterday. Yes, the loss stings — don't get me wrong, every loss stings — but this doesn't define their career or our baseball team.”

Fairfield’s lone hit was off the bat of Corbin Willey in the bottom of the second inning, as he led off the inning with the hit going to centerfield. Willey advanced to second on a groundout, but was eventually caught stealing at third base.

The loss on the mound was charged to Gabe Fouch, pitching 2.1 innings. Pitching in relief for 2.2 innings was Carson Chandler.

Hiland began the game with hot bats and never let up, scoring seven runs in the top of the first, followed by consecutive three-run innings in the second and third, a two-run fourth and three final runs in the fifth inning.

The Hawks had six extra-base hits, including two doubles, one triple and two home runs, with Colin Coblentz having two doubles and a triple, Brady Yoder hitting a double and home run, Danny Hostetler with a double, and Cody Yoder also hitting a home run.

Hiland also collected four steals and were hit by a pitch twice. In all, the Hawks totaled 18 runs, 16 hits, 18 RBI and six walks.

Finn Schneider was the winning pitcher, going five innings on the mound, with no runs on one hit and no walks with one strikeout.

The ’24 Lions became the second team in program history to play in the regional finals, and as they won their first district championship in baseball since 2002 — a 22-season span — and it was the first regional finals appearance for the Lions in 26 seasons.

“[Coaching this team] was easy and hard at the same time,” Zimmerman said. “Easy from the standpoint that the natural athleticism is there, the desire to win, the aggressiveness all around in practice, they already exist. I'll say hard because they have a high level of expectations of what you should bring to the table as a coach, and they're going to hold you accountable every day in practice. It makes it tough sometimes, but it makes it awful rewarding at the end of the day.”

Fairfield ends the season with a 21-5 overall record, as they were the Division II champions of the Southern Hills Athletic Conference with an 10-3 mark, and they also won a sectional and aforementioned district championships.

Seniors for the Lions are Gabe Fouch, Cody Frost, Wyatt Willey, Nolan Campbell and Cade Miller.

“I look at the five seniors — Cade Miller, Gabe Fouch, Nolan Campbell, Wyatt Willey and Cody Frost — and I have a special group of guys that stepped up this year,” Zimmerman said. “Cody and Nolan, for instance, were guys that did not play varsity ball last year, could have easily said ‘I want to do something else,’ stuck with it, put the time in and became starters for me this year.

“Wyatt Willey, a starter last year, continued to do nothing but improve, a big outfielder for us this year that was valuable in our lineup. He did a lot of things for us that that I just didn't think anybody else could do.

“And then there's Cade Miller and Gabe Fouch, my nephews,” Zimmerman continued. “I’ve mentioned this, I’m probably as hard or harder on them than I have been on anybody on the team with the exception of my son, and I knew that I could count on them to get the job done when the time came.

“As a whole, this class is very special, and this team is very special. Even though the night's outcome wasn't what we wanted, I will never forget this year, probably as long as I live.”

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