FAIRFIELD — If the regular season was meant to be any indication, it should have been a mere formality that the sixth-ranked Fairfield Trojans would advance Friday night to the Class 3A, District 10 championship game.
Getting past the Fort Madison Bloodhounds for the fifth time this season, however, was anything but a formality. It took a four-run rally in the fourth inning, and six solid innings of relief pitching by Kosta Papazoglou, for Fairfield to put away a 7-4 win in the postseason opener for the sixth-ranked baseball team in Class 3A.
"In the postseason, when you can survive and advance, that's what it's all about," Fairfield head baseball coach Josh Allison said. "With all the things we were dealing with, I'm really happy that we got the W."
The Trojans entered the game short-handed with senior Tristin Waugh missing the game due to his commitment this weekend representing the school in the annual Iowa Shrine Bowl all-star football game.
"We knew this was something that Tristin was going to do. It's really important to him," Allison said. "We're glad that we could support him, and we got the win, so he gets another chance to play some more baseball."
Papazoglou delivered what would prove to be the winning hit, collecting the first of back-to-back run-scoring two-out doubles in the fourth to snap a 4-4 tie. Cooper Drish followed Papazoglou's go-ahead double that scored Matthew Swanson with a double that plated courtesy runner Connor Lyons, giving the Trojans a two-run lead.
Before coming up with the go-ahead hit, Papazoglou was called on the relieve Trojans starting pitcher Jackson Weaton, who struggled with his command walking four of 10 Fort Madison batters while hitting two more Bloodhounds. Papazoglou recorded three straight outs, but not without allowing a go-ahead sacrifice fly to Jordyn Gerdes and a double steal that brought in Kane Williams, giving Fort Madison a 3-1 lead.
"You can't win every game to get to state unless you win that first one. Whatever the game dictated was what we were going to do," Allison said. "We were hoping Jack(son) would throw as well as he threw at Wilton earlier this week. He didn't quite have his stuff, but fortunately Kosta was ready to come in and help him out."
Fort Madison (16-15) took a 4-2 lead on a sacrifice fly by Tate Johnson, scoring Vasin Thurman in the third inning. It would be the only run Papazoglou would allow as the Trojans finally broke through against Fort Madison starting pitcher Dayne Cordray, scoring four runs on five hits in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead for good.
"We pulled the guys together after the third inning. I told the guys that we were going to have to grind for this win, but we know how to grind. We've done it before," Allison said. "The guys were able to pull from that experience and pull through in the end."
Papazoglou could see even bigger innings later in this postseason as the Trojans (25-4) moved within two wins of the program's second trip to the Class 3A state baseball tournament. On Friday, the Fairfield senior improved to 7-1 allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out 11 batters in six innings.
The road to state only gets tougher for Fairfield on Monday as the Trojans host a rubber match with Mount Pleasant, who rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat Clear Creek-Amana 8-3 in Friday's opening district semifinal. The Panthers and Trojans split their four regular season meetings and shared the Southeast Conference regular-season title.
"It should be a really good game on Monday," Allison said. "It's exciting. It's why you play baseball."
The winner of the fifth meeting between Fairfield and Mount Pleasant will advance to play for a state tournament berth on Wednesday night in the 3A, Substate 5 championship game. The District 10 winner will face the winner of the 3A, District 9 final between second-ranked Davenport Assumption and Washington, which will also take place on Monday night.