FAIRFIELD — Four Southeast Conference games between the Fairfield and Mount Pleasant high school baseball teams were decided by two runs or less.
What happened Monday, however, was more of a testament to the Trojans' hitting abilities and overall play down the stretch.
Kosta Papazoglou homered twice, Austin Simpson hit another and Caden Jones pitched six strong innings as sixth-ranked Fairfield rolled past the Panthers 9-2 in a Class 3A district final at Fairfield Middle School. Fairfield (26-4) will face No. 2 Davenport Assumption (30-4) in a substate final Wednesday in Muscatine with a trip to the state tournament at Principal Park in Des Moines on the line.
"We've been hitting the ball well the last 10 games or so," said Papazoglou, who led off the bottom of the first with a towering homer to left. "I think we're what we're doing right now is not putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. We've all been here before."
Papazoglou then hit a three-run home run during a six-run fourth that blew the game open. The inning started when Jones hit a weak fielder's choice in which Jackson Weaton scored on a play at the plate, then Cole Engle scored on an errant throw on the play. Simpson also homered in an inning when the Trojans sent 10 to the plate.
"Baseball is a game of inches," said Jones, who drove in two runs with a single in the fifth to make it 9-0. "We really started to catch fire after that."
Jones worked out of trouble in the first two innings, stranding the bases loaded in the first and leaving two more on in the second. The Panthers stranded 13 runners over the course of the game, but scored twice in the sixth on a two-run double by Clayton Lowery.
"I was just hoping to go out there and let my defense do the work, and try to keep my pitch count down," said Jones, whose 110th and final pitch resulted in a fly out to end the sixth. "The coaches just talked to me about letting them put it in play."
"That was a big start for him and our team," Papazogolou said. "We've struggled a little bit with our pitching lately, but those first two innings can give us a lot of confidence in knowing that if it happens again, we can get out of it."
In a game the Trojans could have used several pitchers just to get through it, Fairfield coach Josh Allison received exactly what he wanted.
"Caden manned up tonight. He stepped up and took advantage of the senior moment," he said. "He had some tough innings."
The Trojans are taking this postseason run in stride. They have nine seniors — the largest in Allison's tenure — and Papazoglou will play in his fifth straight substate game. None of them have played in the state tournament, and it won't be easy getting there against an Assumption team that is fourth in 3A in pitching with a 1.93 ERA, even though Fairfield leads 3A in batting average (.350).
"I just feel like we have a pretty good chance," Papazoglou said. "We're both different than we were two years ago (in substate). Their team that year was just way too good."
"To be the best you have to beat the best," Allison said. "We respect all, but we fear none. Our team is really coming together right now. I feel like we've kind of turn that corner."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury