YOUNTVILLE — Every time the Petaluma Leghorns took a bite, the Fairfield Expos nibbled back, but one last bite was taken, and it was not from the Expos.
The Expos battled back from a 5-1 deficit to eventually tie the American Legion State Tournament semifinal at 6-6 in the top of the seventh, only to allow two Petaluma runs in the bottom of the inning, eventually falling 8-6 to be eliminated Saturday at Cleve Borman Field.
“It was a great season,” manager Brad Hanson said. “This is one of the best teams I have ever coached. That’s a true statement. They are an outstanding and great group of young men.”
The Expos (40-19) were 2-4 against Petaluma coming into the contest against the Area 1 rival and defending state champions, and after only losing 10-9 the previous day to Petaluma, the Expos looked like they had a chance.
After falling behind 2-0 after one inning, Fairfield narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the top of the second after Jason Brasile scored Carter Bins, who hit an infield single, then advanced to second on a single from Jo Jo Quintanilla, and was sacrificed over to third by Anthony Kaleczyc.
Petaluma scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth, and again, Fairfield answered with one run in the top of the fifth, a RBI double from Cameron Michael that brought in Jack Gamba.
After holding the Leghorns scoreless in the bottom of the fifth, the Expos got the top of the sixth started on a one out ground-rule double from Quintanilla. The ball could not be found under the ivy by the Vinnie Albano, Petaluma’s center fielder, so Quintanilla had to stay at second instead of third, which he was on the way to.
Kaleczyc then hit a ball to the shortstop for the second out, advancing Quintanilla to third, and it looked as if the Expos were going to leave a man in scoring position, something they could not allow to happen. Matthew Lanza then came in and hit a ball up the middle off of the pitcher, scoring Quintanilla.
After an overthrow from Petaluma’s pitcher Cooper Casad, to first, Lanza advanced to third, and then scored when Gamba hit an infield single, making the score 5-4. The rally was over after Gamba tried to score off a single from JP San Antonio, only to get caught at home for the third out.
The Leghorns scored one in the bottom of the sixth, and then the Expos scored two in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 6-6.
The inning that tied the game was started by a lead-off single from Jake Hedrick, who later scored on a stand-up double to left-center from Cameron Michael. After a walk from Quintanilla and Kaleczyc, the bases were loaded for Lanza, who hit a hard grounder to the shortstop that scored Michael, reaching on a fielder’s choice, with everyone safe because the shortstop could not handle the ball. But once again, the rally was stopped short after Gregory Thomas struck out Gamba.
Petaluma scored the two runs in the bottom of the inning and then only needed eight pitches to get the Expos out in the eighth inning, and 12 to end the game in the top of the ninth.
“We battled,” Hanson said. “(Petaluma) is a great team. They were second in the country last year, and they’re probably going to go back this year. It is just hard to stop those guys from scoring. You have to outscore them, and that is hard to do.”
Michael led the Expos at the plate, going 3 for 5 with two RBIs, while Gamba was 2 for 4 with one RBI. San Antonio, Hedrick and Quintanilla each had two hits, while Bins and Lanza had one.
Hanson said this was a good experience this year for him.
“This year has been one of the best. When I reflect back, I’ll reflect fondly on this year.”