FAIRFIELD — If Brad Hanson had his choice, he’d rather be managing his Fairfield Expos American Legion team in this week’s Western Regional rather than serving as tournament director for the Northwest Regional in Eugene, Ore.
Hanson became an administrator when the Expos came up short in the California State Tournament, essentially tying El Segundo for third place after an 8-6 loss to eventual runner-up Petaluma on Saturday in Yountville.
Still, it was a memorable summer, one that saw the Expos take trips to Oregon, win the Area 1 Western Division regular season title and end up being one of the final three teams standing in the state tournament with an overall 40-20 record.
“I thought it was really good,” Hanson said of the season. “I think the team was young, and it showed a little bit off and on. That was what you gain with maturity, more consistency. Young teams fluctuate. They play brilliantly two or three games then make mistakes. That’s what you get with young teams. Overall they did very well.”
Did well despite two of their top hitters – right fielder Cameron Michael and catcher Carter Bins – being among the three youngest players on the team and the offense doing more than expected.
“Our pitching came around late in the season, which was a good sign,” Hanson said. “Our hitting was better than anticipated. I would’ve thought at the beginning of the season our offense would struggle because of so many young hitters. Look at the stats: Carter Bins and Cameron Michael were outstanding. They were both 15 when the season started and their stats would rival any 19-year-old’s in the league.”
Michael’s .394 average was topped only by third baseman Jake Hedrick’s .401, and he hit half of the team’s eight home runs, while Bins, who won’t turn 16 until October, hit .341 and was second on the team with 45 RBIs.
Hedrick got into the most games (57) and had the most plate appearances (252), yet struck out just 12 times. He’s also the only starter not eligible to return next season.
“All in all, we should have one of the largest returning groups we’ve ever had,” Hanson said. “In the starting lineup, counting the DH, of the nine guys in the batting order in (the state) tournament, eight of the nine are eligible to return. Jake Hedrick is the only positional player that was in the starting lineup that’s graduating, so that’s pretty solid when you talk about that.”
That’s especially impressive considering the Expos set a club record for highest team average at .323, topping the .321 set by the 1999 squad. They also had all nine starters bat over .300 for the first time with DH JP San Antonio at .317, first baseman Garlind Webster at .314 (along with 17 doubles and 54 RBIs, both team highs), second baseman Jack Gamba at .315, shortstop Jason Brasile at .330, left fielder Jo Jo Quintanilla at .338 and center field Anthony Kaleczyc at .353.
The news isn’t as good in the pitching department as the Expos lose Payton Tyler, who tied for most wins at seven with David Hostler, as well as starters Troy Nixon and Matt Sherman, and closer Justin Lee.
“We lose four pitchers, but there were some prospects out there that could step up and our returning pitchers should step up,” Hanson said. “Rylan Haney, David Hostler, Jake Brand, those guys are really going to step up next year.”
Hanson is quick to point out that while a player is eligible to return in 2015, it doesn’t mean he’ll be in uniform next season.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to sit down and talk to every player,” Hanson said. “First we have to find out who wants to return and we have to decide if we want them to return. It’s a process we go through. We have to be as considerate as possible. Every year, not every single player wants to return and not every player do we want to return. We have to see what’s best for them and for the program and go from there.”
Chico wound up winning this year’s state tournament by beating defending champ and 2014 national runner-up Petaluma 7-6 in 11 innings and 5-2 on Sunday.
“There’s a rotation. Chico won in 2011, we won in 2012, Petaluma won in 2013 and Chico won this year, so it’s our turn next year,” Hanson said with a chuckle.
He and his coaches may have enough familiar faces around to pull it off.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.