By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — FAIRFIELD – Believe.
It would have been a hard thing to do for Fairfield baseball fans late Wednesday night after what they had been witnessing for the first 10 innings of the Trojans pivotal Southeast Conference doubleheader with Fort Madison.
Having already been shut out by the Bloodhounds 2-0 in game one and down 8-0 midway through game two, it was hard to believe Fairfield would find a way to end the night with the same share of the conference lead they held with Fort Madison at the start.
It was at that point the Trojans came together and rallied around the one word that has bonded them all season.
“What we break to (after every huddle) is believe,” Fairfield senior Josh Dimmitt said. “That really emphasized believing that we could come back. It just started for us from within.”
Whatever was needed to change the momentum of the game around, the Trojan players were willing to try it in order to salvage a split and maintain a share of the conference lead. Even if it meant going to some old-school late-inning tactics a little early in the dugout.
“We started putting some rally caps in the fourth inning,” Dimmitt said. “Whatever it was going to take. We started having these little meetings. We were not going to leave here without that share of first place.”
Nine unanswered runs over the next four innings later, Fairfield is right back where they started Wednesday night. The Trojans used six runs in the fourth inning to start the rally, a two-run home run by Tyler Cooksey to completely catch up and a walk-off run in the bottom of the seventh scored by Dimmitt on a wild pitch with two outs to complete an incredible comeback as Fairfield’s belief in their ability led to a well-earned split with Fort Madison thanks to a 9-8 win late Wednesday night at the Fairfield Summer Sports Complex.
“They’re one unit. It takes a lot to tear this group of young men apart,” Fairfield head coach Josh Allison said. “This could have been that night, but these guys wouldn’t let it happen.”
Entering the night with identical 5-1 conference records, Fairfield figured to be in for two very even games with Fort Madison. Game one saw very little offense from either teams as both squads came up with just four hits with the Bloodhounds able to put across the only two runs of the opener off Fairfield game one starter Joseph Hieptus, who struck out nine batters in the tough luck loss suffered without allowing an earned run to Bloodhound.
If game one was frustrating, game two didn’t get much better. Fort Madison jumped all over Austin Gridley, who walked six batters in an inning and a third, as the Bloodhounds scored three runs alone in the first inning of the nightcap and added two more before Gridley was pulled for Ryan Gaumer.
Fort Madison struck Gaumer for four of their five hits in the nightcap, adding three more runs in the third to open an 8-0 lead. Suddenly, a possible mercy-rule win and a two-game edge over Fairfield seemed much more likely than the two teams remaining tied for the conference lead.
“I think the biggest thing that changed for us was the guys bringing themselves together in that huddle (before the bottom of the fourth),” Allison said. “Nobody had to bring them together. They did that themselves. They knew it was time that they had to get something done.”
Fairfield began its rally much as Fort Madison did in game two, by waiting on pitches to either drive for hits or for to reach on walks. Soon enough, Fairfield put together its first scoring rally of the night and got two runs home on a fly ball a pair of Bloodhound defenders lost in the lights to pull within 8-2.
Fort Madison went to the bullpen twice in the fourth inning. Fairfield kept right on rallying with big hits that kept bringing in more runs before a six-run frame completely changed the game as the Trojans pulled within 8-6.
“Now we’re back in the game,” Allison said. “Suddenly it’s a two-run game. Now we’re back in it and that makes them believe even more.”
Fairfield soon enough got the tying run to home plate for the first time all night in the form of Cooksey, who was looking just to put the ball in play and keep the rally going in the fifth. Initially, Cooksey thought that he had done that with a gapper to left.
“Off the bat, I was thinking it was a good double,” Cooksey said.
His coach, however, had bigger hopes
“I was hoping it was going over for a home run,” Allison said.
Allison got his wish. Cooksey’s deep fly landed over the left field fence for a game-tying homer that created a whole new game two, tying the score at 8-8.
“At the beginning of the year, I was struggling with my hitting. I’ve been putting a lot of work into it as the year’s been going along,” Cooksey said. “For whatever reason, I just felt really comfortable up there at that moment. I couldn’t believe we were tied, but then again I could with the kind of team we’ve got this year.”
Fairfield stranded the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, but used spectacular infield defense and a clutch strikeout by Peterman in the seventh to strand Fort Madison’s go-ahead runner at third.
Dimmitt then hit a one-out double and moved to third on an infield single by Peterman. After Gaumer grounded out to second, an 0-1 pitch to Dahlstrom by Miles Wentzein tipped off the catcher’s glove and rolled to the backstop, allowing Dimmitt to run home to score the winning run for Fairfield.
“We showed what we were made of,” Dimmitt said. “We put on our big boy pants to win this one.”
The end result of the split is a three-way tie between Fairfield (11-4), Fort Madison (9-12) and Mount Pleasant (10-10). All three are tied with 6-2 conference records with doubleheaders remaining against each other.
The Trojans were back in conference play Thursday at Keokuk as the Courier went to press before hosting Pella Christian on Saturday.
“Hopefully this can propel us to some great things for the rest of the season,” Allison said. “It’s just the start of the race. We’ve got to keep going with it.”
Fort Madison 2, Fairfield 0
F.M. 011 000 0 — 2 4 1
F.F. 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
Fairfield battery — Joe Hietpas (L, 3-2) (7IP, 4H, 2R, 8K, BB, HBP), Justin Leonard catching.
2B — Tyler Cooksey, Hietpas.
Hits — Cooksey 1-3, Austin Gridley 1-3, Hietpas 1-3, Spencer Peterman 1-3.
Fairfield 9, Fort Madison 8
F.M. 323 000 0 — 8 5 2
F.F. 000 620 1 — 9 8 3
Fairfield battery — Austin Gridley (1 1/3IP, H, 5R, 3ER, K, 6BB), Ryan Gaumer (4 1/3IP, 4H, 3R, ER, K) and Spencer Peterman (W, 1-1) (IP, 2K) Justin Leonard and Josh Dimmitt catching.
2B — Dimmitt.
HR — Tyler Cooksey.
Hits — Dimmitt 3-4, Kooper Dahlstrom 2-2, Peterman 1-2, Cooksey 1-4, Mason Ellis 1-4.
RBI — Cooksey 2, Dahlstrom, Ellis, Peterman.
Runs — Dimmitt 2, Hieptas 2, Cooksey 2, Dahlstrom, Ellis, Gaumer.