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Little League: Hamilton-Fairfield earns another shot at West Side

Braylin Hailstones delivered the big blow Wednesday night for a Hamilton-Fairfield Little League baseball squad that would love to make some history.

Hailstones’ three-run double in the third inning snapped a 2-2 deadlock as Hamilton-Fairfield advanced to the finals of the District 9 tournament with a 7-2 victory over Anderson Township in the losers’ bracket final at the West Side complex.

“I knew we had to win this game to play West Side again,” Hailstones said. “I wanted to play tomorrow really badly, and I think the rest of the team did too. I think we can do it. As long as we don’t make errors, we can beat ’em.”

Hamilton-Fairfield lost to West Side 10-0 in the winners’ bracket final of the double-elimination event Tuesday and will have to beat the perennial district champions twice to advance to the state tournament.

West Side has never failed to win the local 12-year-old tourney since it began in 1985. The finals are scheduled for 8:30 p.m. on Thursday and (if necessary) Friday at West Side.

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“We’re going to do the best we can,” Hamilton-Fairfield coach Travis Riley said. “We’re playing against a talented team, a well-coached team, but baseball’s one of those sports where any team can win on any given day.

“We’re looking forward to it. I think the kids will be ready. There isn’t any pressure on us … nobody expected us to get this far anyway. We just need to have fun and relax and play baseball.”

Hamilton-Fairfield made it to the finals in 2011 and 2012, also reaching this level in 1996 when the league was known as East Hamilton.

Hailstones and West Side’s Ethan Stone will be the starting pitchers Thursday night. The state tournament begins July 21 at the Hoover Community Recreation Complex in North Canton.

“Braylin’s our No. 3 pitcher behind (Jordan) Zapata and (Noah) Wagster, but he’s not that far behind,” Riley said. “If’we’re fortunate enough to win Thursday, we’ll throw everybody we’ve got Friday.”

»DAY BY DAY: District 9 tournament schedule, results

Wagster and Wes Fox combined on a four-hitter with eight strikeouts and eight walks against Anderson. Wagster threw 85 pitches in 4.1 innings to collect the win.

Zapata and Nolan Thomas both had RBIs for Hamilton-Fairfield, but it was Hailstones’ only hit of the night that had the biggest impact.

Hailstones battled Anderson pitcher Colton Ziegler through a lengthy at-bat with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the third inning, then slammed a 3-2 pitch to the fence in left field to clear the bases.

“I killed the ball,” Hailstones said. “I’m thinking that I just have to get a hit or I don’t know what else will happen. It felt great. I was like, ‘Oh no, this guy might catch it.’ And then he didn’t, so I’m like, ‘Let’s go, three runs.’ I did my job.”

Said Riley, “I had a feeling he was going to pull through for us. He’s a grinder, a hard-nosed player. His hit was such a big moment in the game. There was still some residual from last night’s loss, and it gave the kids the energy they needed.”

It was 5-2 just that quickly and Anderson never recovered, stranding 10 runners in the game. Henry McGurn had two hits and Jack Muzzo plated a run in the losing effort, and Ziegler and McGurn teamed up for a six-hitter with five strikeouts and seven walks on the mound.

“Hamilton-Fairfield has improved so much. They’re a great team,” Anderson coach John Chafin said. “We definitely left some runners out there. I’m not making excuses, but we’re a little tired. We started in January, we’re 50 games into our season, we’ve been up here five nights in a row, and we were here until like 10:30 last night. That’s tough when you’re 12 years old. It’s even tougher when you’re 50 like me.

“We’ve had a ban on swimming pools the last couple weeks, so they’re ready to hit the pool and be kids again. It’s a great group. Every kid got better this year, and it was a great time coming up here. (District administrator) Kevin Carey does an awesome job. He runs a great tournament.”

Chafin said he was very impressed with Zapata, Hamilton-Fairfield’s shortstop.

“That kid is going to be a great baseball player,” Chafin said. “He’s probably D-I bound down the road.”

Anderson played a lot of games outside of Little League this season and had more than 30 wins.

“After we got our 16 Little League games in, we played anybody we could play,” Chafin said. “It’s not a lot of fun after a while if you’re only playing rec ball teams, and you don’t want to do that to kids.”

Hamilton-Fairfield’s Jordan Zapata connects at the plate in front of Hamilton West Side catcher Peyton Eldridge (13) during Tuesday night’s winners’ bracket final of the Little League District 9 tournament. Host West Side won 10-0. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF (Staff Writer)

Chafin pitched for Marshall University and was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 18th round of the 1988 amateur draft. He played two seasons of minor-league ball with Chicago and one with Boston, and Chafin was part of Wellston High School’s 1985 Class AA state runner-up squad.

He recalled facing Mark Lewis when the Hamilton High School product was playing for Midland.

“I ran into him in the regional tournament,” Chafin said. “I threw him a changeup that was down and away, and he stayed back and hit that ball out to left field, a two-run home run, and 2-0 was the final score. That sucker was only 16 at the time and a great player. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I definitely remember him.”

Hamilton-Fairfield 105-001—7-6-2

Anderson Township 020-000—2-4-1

WP — Noah Wagster; LP — Colton Ziegler

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