Fairfield’s players celebrate with the Division I district championship trophy Saturday after defeating Vandalia Butler 7-0 at Centerville. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Sams’ mound gem leads Fairfield to first district crown since 2002

Less than 48 hours after using a stirring rally to defeat Kings in a Division I sectional final, the Indians blanked Vandalia Butler 7-0 at Centerville to capture the program’s first district championship since 2002.

“After our emotional game the other night, this is what we needed,” Fairfield coach Tommy Begley said. “We needed Andrew Sams to put us on his back and just take us to this district championship, and that’s exactly what he did. I’m just so proud of him.”

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Sams, a senior right-hander headed to Bellarmine University to wrestle, tossed a three-hitter and rarely allowed hard-hit balls by the Aviators (25-5).

Fairfield (22-6), a first-game loser to Elder in last year’s tournament, wasn’t fazed by a weather delay of 146 minutes.

“It feels awesome,” Sams said. “Last year we choked in the playoffs, and it was very disappointing. We always talk about tradition. We really don’t want our season to end until we get to Columbus. Our goals are high.”

Fairfield High School senior Andrew Sams talks about Saturday's 7-0 victory over Vandalia Butler in a Division I district final at Centerville.

Sams struck out six and walked two in a 95-pitch effort for the Indians, who will meet St. Xavier in a 5 p.m. regional semifinal Thursday at the University of Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium.

“I haven’t thrown very good this whole year, but today I finally got it under control and was finally hitting my spots,” Sams said. “I didn’t let the umpires mess with my head.

“I got my changeup to work for the first time all year. I don’t throw too hard, so I really do rely on those guys behind me, and they made awesome plays. Knowing I’ve got the guys behind me, I just know I’ve got to throw strikes.”

Noah Bauman doubled, singled and drove in two runs for Fairfield. Brock Mathis added an RBI double.

“Right from the start, we were ready,” said Bauman, a junior center fielder. “We were hyped for this game. We’re trying to win a state championship, and this was one piece of the state. We’ve been together for two years … we only had three seniors last year. We’re basically a family.”

Begley liked his team’s focus Saturday, even after a driving rain — which started during the Indians’ infield practice — pushed the start of the contest back.

“As coaches, you worry about how they’re going to react to that stuff,” Begley said. “But the players are just ready to play. They know what’s at stake. We had a good feeling from the time we started hitting at 7:30 this morning. The players had this easiness about them like something was different today.”

Starter Tyler Burley lasted two-plus innings, Gavin Kohler faced four batters without recording an out and Zach Crawford pitched five scoreless frames for Butler.

The Aviator hurlers combined on a five-hitter, but they had some self-inflicted wounds. Fairfield’s four third-inning runs came home on a hit batter with the bases loaded, two walks with the bases loaded and a double-play grounder.

“They only had five hits … they had theirs at the right time,” Butler coach Trent Dues said. “We didn’t get a couple calls. I thought the strike zone didn’t go our way early and hurt us. That’s the way it rolls, I guess.

“But they score seven or one and we don’t score any, it doesn’t really matter. Their pitcher kept us off balance. He was solid. He was around the plate with three different pitches, and we hit a lot of weak fly balls and weak ground balls, so give him credit.”

The Aviators were Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division champions. Their roster includes 12 seniors.

“They’ve got a league championship and a sectional championship. That’s something to be proud of,” Dues said. “I’m proud of all the guys. They’re all really good kids.”

The Indians have set their sights on St. Xavier, the Greater Catholic League South Division champion. The two teams haven’t met since Fairfield won 3-1 in the 2014 postseason.

Begley said his players deserve the joy that comes with a lengthy tournament run.

“You work so hard all year. You just want your players to experience something like this,” Begley said. “High school baseball is so awesome in the tournament. When you survive and move on to each round, it’s special. Neither of these last two games will be forgotten by this entire roster and coaching staff.”

Fairfield 124-000-0—7-5-0

Butler 000-000-0—0-3-0

WP — Andrew Sams (3-2); LP — Tyler Burley (5-2). Records: F 22-6, B 25-5