CHILLICOTHE — In the final two innings with a rain delay in between, the Fairland Dragons got the better of the Minford Falcons in Thursday’s Region 11 semifinal at VA Memorial Stadium.
Entering the top of the sixth with a 3-1 lead, Minford surrendered nine Dragons runs in their final two trips to the plate — falling to Fairland 10-3.
It’s the Dragons’ first trip to the regional final since 1983.
Minford got on the scoreboard first against the Dragons in the first— a sentenced that hadn’t been uttered yet this postseason.
The Falcons scored the first runs allowed by Fairland so far this postseason — also their first runs allowed in 26 innings.
Freshman JD Matiz and sophomore Carson Cronin led the Falcons’ first with singles and later scored to give Minford a 2-0 lead through one.
An RBI sacrifice fly by Aodhan Queen scored Matiz from third, and a double steal at the corners sent Cronin in for their second tally on the scoreboard.
“It was big early on. Being able to attack first as the aggressor is what we preached all game,” Minford coach Anthony Knittel said, afterwards. “We know they’ve got a good pitcher who’s going to throw a lot of strikes.”
A double by Fairland’s Cooper Cummings with no outs in the top of the fourth would prove beneficial, as Cummings would later score on a wild pitch to cut Minford’s lead to 2-1.
It wouldn’t take the Falcons long to get that run back when in the bottom of the fourth senior Branson Alley scored Noah Martin with an RBI single after Martin led the inning with a lead-off single.
Minford led Fairland 3-1 through five complete.
Fairland took their first lead in the top of the sixth when Niko Kiritsy reached via a one-out double and Minford elected to intentionally walk the tying run in Cummings.
Five-hole hitter Blake Trevathan drove in both Dragons runs with an RBI double, tying the game at 3-3.
“Cummings is a heck of a player. The idea was to set up a double play, the way he was swinging he was probably going to end up at second whether we intentionally walked him or not,” Knittel said, of the situation. “We’ve been able to pitch around guys all season, put them on base to try and set up and execute. Trevathan came out and had a big hit in a big moment.”
Two Minford errors — both ruled as E6s — allowed the go-ahead run in Trevathan to advance and later score to put Fairland in front 4-3.
Nearly two hours into the contest, a downpour of rain led the umpires at 12:48 p.m. to delay the game until the rain left the area.
“We were kind of hoping it went our way. We couldn’t hold the baseballs, our guys couldn’t pitch in that,” Knittel said. “Bases loaded, no one out. Just tried to keep them positive and that we can do it.”
When play resumed at 2:00 p.m., Fairland had the bases loaded with no one out and they took advantage.
The Dragons sent 11 batters in total to the plate in the seventh and plated six runs, including off RBI hits by Alex Rogers and Brycen Hunt.
“They hit the baseball, had some errors that doesn’t always help. If we just make plays, we end up walking a couple of guys. It’s just like a domino effect,” Knittel said. “One thing happened after another, they got the best of us — they were better than us today.”
Minford concludes their season at 18-9 and in the Region 11 tournament for the third-straight year — after winning the Region 11 tournament in 2018.
The Falcons graduate three seniors in Branson Alley, Jacob Lewis, and Levi Coriell who were all key contributors during the regular season and in their run to the program’s fourth-straight district championship.
“Proud of these seniors for what they brought to the table. Those are the first guys I’ve coached for all four years as a head coach. To see them grow up and mature, they’ve came a long way. They know what it’s like to work hard and compete at a high level.”
Minford does return seven of their nine in their hitting lineup and eight of their nine fielders in their defensive lineup.
A return to the Region 11 tournament isn’t just a hope for the Falcons, it’s an expectation, Knittel says.
“It’s an expectation, I don’t expect anything less — never have. Four regionals in a row. These kids know coming into the off-season the work we put in,” he said. “We’ve got guys playing during the summer all over the place. For some of these guys, it’s two years in a row that we’ve made it to the regionals and didn’t come out of it. They’re hungry.”
Fairland (21-5) will face the winner of Liberty Union-Ridgewood in the Region 11 final on Friday, June 3 at 3:00 p.m. at Beavers Field in Lancaster.
Fairland 0 0 0 1 0 3 6 — 10 9 1
Minford 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 — 3 6 3
Brycen Hunt 2-4, RBI
Niko Kiritsy 2-3, R
Cooper Cummings 1-2, 2R, 2BB
Alex Rogers 1-4, RBI
Tyler Sammons 1-3
Blake Trevathan 1-3, R, 3RBI
Ethan Wall 1-3, BB, RBI
Hunter Lykins 0-2, RBI
JD Matiz 1-2, R, 2BB
Carson Cronin 2-2, R
Aodhan Queen 0-1, RBI
Mason Book 1-2, BB
Noah Martin 1-3, R
Branson Alley 1-3, RBI
Cole Borland (M) 6IP, 5H, 3K, 1BB, 4ER, 2HBP (L)
Levi Coriell (M) 1IP, 4H, 2ER, 0K, 2BB
Tyler Sammons (F) 7IP, 6H, 3ER, 4BB, 2K (W)
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved