YOUNTVILLE — This time there’s no “Get out of jail free” card.
The Fairfield Expos American Legion team moved to brink of having its season end with a heart-breaking 10-9 loss to Area 1 rival Petaluma in the second round of the state tournament at Cleve Borman Field, Thursday.
The Expos, who are in Yountville because Area 1 advanced not one but four teams to the state tourney, must beat San Mateo Post 82 on Friday at noon and then win once Saturday and twice Sunday to move on to the Western Regionals.
The Expos came within an inch or two of staying in the winner’s bracket when Petaluma left fielder Vinny Albano made a diving catch of Jack Gamba’s sinking line drive with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with Jo Jo Quintanilla racing around third with the potential tying run.
“He (Albano) dove with his glove (facing) down,” said Fairfield manager Brad Hanson of the catch Expos fans insist was a trap. “It’s hard to catch with the glove down. I couldn’t tell. That was your typical Fairfield-Petaluma game.”
From the first inning on. The Expos scored twice in the top of the first only to see the Leghorns tally three times in the bottom half, then build on that lead and then have to hang on at the end.
The Expos took advantage of wildness on the part of Petaluma starter Connor Littleton, who gave up a leadoff single to JP San Antonio and walked three of the next four batters – Jake Hedrick, Garlind Webster and Carter Bins – to force in San Antonio.
Quintanilla then singled to center to plate Hedrick, but Anthony Kaleczyc grounded sharply into an inning-ending 5-2-3 double play.
Expos starter Rylan Haney was his own worst enemy in the bottom of the first, hitting three batters – one on an 0-2 count and another to force in a run – and walked two batters as well as allowing a two-run single to Albano.
The Leghorns added single runs in the second and third innings and two more in the fourth before the Expos finally scored again.
Hedrick led off the fifth with a double, took third on Cameron Michael’s deep fly to right and scored on Bins’ single up the middle.
Petaluma promptly put a damper on things when Bubba Thomason doubled in two runs in the bottom of the inning with two outs to make it 9-3.
“Eight (Petaluma) runs out of 10 were with two outs,” Hanson said. “It’s like the old third down in football – you can’t get off the field. I know we struggled like that. We had golden opportunities twice and couldn’t capitalize twice. That’s baseball.
And the Expos still had plenty of baseball to play on Thursday.
Kaleczyc, whose named must’ve been pronounced 20 different ways by the stadium announcer despite numerous prompts from Expos fans, tripled with one out in the sixth and scored on Jason Brasile’s ground out.
Fairfield got even closer in the seventh when Bins tripled in Hedrick and Michael and later scored on a Quintanilla double.
Petaluma tacked on what proved to be the deciding run in the bottom of the seventh when Tyler Moore led off with a single, was sacrificed to second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on another bunt by Ryan Walsh.
The Expos clawed to within a run in the eighth when Hedrick and Michael singled with two outs and Webster doubled over the head of center fielder Eric Parnow. Bins grounded out to end the inning.
Quintanilla doubled to lead off the ninth and the Expos appeared ready to tie it up – or retake the lead.
However, Kaleczyc flew out to center and Brasile popped out to third before Albano made his circus catch on Gamba’s line drive.
“We need to win four straight, but we can do it,” Hanson said. “We’ve done it many times before. The year we won state here (2012) we lost game 2 of the area tournament (in Oroville) and won six straight. We battled back.
“We’ve been there many times before. Every time we’ve gone to the (Legion) World Series (1993 and 1997) we came back through the loser’s bracket at least twice.”
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.