FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Expos may not have won the Area 1 championship, but a berth in the state tournament will do just fine.
In an elimination game for the Area 1 tournament, the Expos battled back from a 4-0 deficit against the Petaluma Leghorns to take a 9-7 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, only to give up five more runs, falling 12-9 at Laurel Creek Park, Saturday.
Petaluma will play Chico for the Area 1 championship in a winner-take-all game at 11 a.m. Sunday at Laurel Creek.
Expos starting pitcher Jake Brandt allowed Petaluma’s first six batters to reach base in the first inning, hitting three batters, walking two and allowing one hit, making the score 4-0 after one half inning.
The Expos fought back to only a 7-5 deficit after the top of the sixth and in the bottom of the inning, Garlind Webster hit a three-run home run to give the Expos a 9-7 advantage. Petaluma scored two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth, sealing the victory.
Petaluma collectively had 18 hits, while the Expos had 12. Expos manager Brad Hanson said it was a very good hitting day for his team.
“We hit the ball good,” Hanson said. “But (Petaluma) did, too. It was a fun game, two rivals facing each other again.”
Hanson said he wanted to win the game, but more importantly, he wanted his team ready and healthy for the opening game of the State Tournament. He chose to keep a few pitchers from entering Saturday’s game, wanting them to stay fresh.
The Expos will open the State Tournament with Merced, a team that they have gone 1-1 with this season, according to Hanson.
This year will be the first time the tournament will host eight teams instead of six. Because the tournament site at Yountville doesn’t have lights for the field, Merced and the Expos will play at noon Wednesday at Napa High School. All other teams will start the tournament Wednesday at Yountville.
Hanson said the option to play at Laurel Creek Park was there, but it was decided that might be too “advantageous” for the Expos, so the Napa site was chosen.
Hanson expects Merced to start their left-hander, something he’s not too worried about.
“Our lineup hits lefties as well as righties. That is something we have not had in the past.”
Payton Tyler will be on the mound for the Expos against Merced. Tyler (6-1) has a 3.61 earned run average and has a 2.60 strikeout to walk ratio.