FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Expos American Legion baseball team finds itself in a familiar spot this week as a participant in the Area 1 tournament.
The Expos got there in a different way from previous seasons, but did well enough along the way to earn the tournament’s top seeding – a status Expos manager Brad Hanson wishes were different.
The double elimination tournament, to be held at Laurel Creek Park, begins with four games on Wednesday: Lodi vs. Redding at 10 a.m.; Petaluma vs. Yolo Post 77 (Woodland) at 1 p.m.; Chico vs. the Humboldt Eagles (Eureka) at 4 p.m.; and the Fairfield Expos vs. West Sacramento at 7 p.m.
The Expos, 35-16 overall, earned their berth in the tournament by finishing first in Area 1’s Western Division with at 14-3 record, one game ahead of defending state champion and 2013 national runner-up Petaluma.
Yet Hanson isn’t pleased with being the top seed, saying it’s “not good because that just means there are more targets are on your back. It’s never a fun thing to go in as the No. 1 seed. It’s much more comfortable to go in somewhere in no-man’s land, if you know what I mean.”
The Expos – and the other seven participants – got to the Area 1 tournament without having to fight their way through district tournaments, which were done away with this season.
“I like it, I like it better,” Hanson said of the new format. “I think it’s more fair because you get the best teams. There’s no weak sister in the area tournament. Before, us, Petaluma and Napa would knock each other off (and there would) be lesser teams (still playing). Now you’re good no matter where you are (in the seedings). It makes no sense for Siskiyous and Susanville to be in the area tournament and Petaluma and Fairfield sitting at home because one of them got knocked out.”
Another twist this year has the state tournament, to be contested at Yountville’s Cleve Borman Field starting on July 30, expanded to eight teams with two wildcard spots going to Northern California, one of those to Area 1.
“The top two in the area advance to state instead of top one,” Hanson said. “Along with this new maneuver of doing things (for the area tournament), now we get two teams in the state tournament in Yountville instead of one. So it worked out really good. A to Z it worked out really good.”
The Expos have likewise been “really good,” especially at the plate, batting .313 as a team, “the highest it’s been in over a decade,” according to Hanson.
Right fielder Cameron Michael leads the way with a .376 average, three home runs, being hit by 12 pitches, a .528 on-base percentage and .581 slugging percentage.
Not far behind is third baseman Jake Hedrick at .374 and just 10 strikeouts in 212 plate appearances.
Hanson’s starting lineup on Wednesday will feature JP San Antonio (.327) at designated hitter, Hedrick at third base, Michael in right field, Garlind Webster (.315, 14 doubles, 43 RBIs) at first base, Carter Bins (.344) at catcher, Jo Jo Quintanilla (.315) in left field, Anthony Kaleczyc (.326) in center field, Jason Brasile (.326) at shortstop and Jack Gamba (.309) at second base.
David Hostler (5-1, 3.48 earned run average) will start on the mound.
For the Expos to advance to the state tournament, the answer is simple: “Our pitching has to hold up,” Hanson said, “That’s the key when you get to this time of year, no mat what. Our hitting’s been pretty solid. . . . That’s a good sign. We’re hitting the baseball.”
The Expos swept a doubleheader from West Sacramento on May 31, winning 5-1 and 5-3, though the games were close enough for Hanson to recall them as one-run affairs.
“We won both but they were both one-run games,” Hanson said. “We won the second one by picking a guy off first base with two outs and the bases loaded. So they’re a good team. Of course, we’re a better team now than when we played them too.”
That same day, Michael was going 2 for 4 with two RBIs in helping lead Justin-Siena High of Napa to a 7-2 win over St. Mary’s of Albany in the North Coast Section Division IV title game.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.