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Fauquier baseball scores twice in bottom of 7th to beat Liberty in Conference 22 quarters

Monday, May. 26 | By Jeff Malmgren
Ryan Simpson's Fauquier teammates mob him after his game-winning hit with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Falcons a 6-5 victory over Liberty during the quarterfinals of the Conference 22 tournament Monday at Athey Field. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Ryan Simpson failed and succeeded simultaneously.

He set a specific goal Monday, but didn't accomplish it. And that's why his Fauquier Falcons beat the Liberty Eagles, 6-5, during the quarterfinals of the Conference 22 baseball tournament at home in Warrenton.

Simpson stepped into the batter's box with two outs during the bottom of the seventh inning and the score tied, 5-5. He focused on staying patient against Liberty's soft-throwing, left-handed pitcher, Alex Crofford, who had given the Falcons fits all season.

"I kept telling myself … I wasn't going to pop up again against this pitcher," Simpson said.

He popped up on the first pitch.

The ball, however, took a perfect flight path and landed in the grass for a game-winning single rather than a fly out.

Off Simpson's bat, the ball flew to shallow right field, where the Eagles' first baseman, Logan Aylor, and right fielder, Austin Booth, converged. Neither Liberty player got a glove on the ball, though, so Charlie Simmons scored the winning run from third base, propelling Fauquier (9-9) to the tournament semifinals and ending the Eagles' season with a 4-13 record.

"I saw it in the air and it just kind of kept drifting back on me," Aylor said. "I kind of lost it in the sun and then I thought I had help on it from the outfield, but I don't think me and Austin really knew what the other one was doing."

Like the ball, Aylor fell to the grass in shallow right field and lingered there as the Falcons celebrated.

"That Bermuda Triangle play is tough," Fauquier coach Matt O'Saben said. "That's why you run those things out. You never know what's going to happen."

Simpson reached first base long before the Eagles could retrieve the ball, and then his teammates mobbed him on the base paths.

"Upset with myself that I still popped it up," he said afterward. "I just feel like it wasn't a [good] enough hit, but it definitely got the run in and won us the game, so I'm happy about that."

Fauquier, the No. 4 seed, advanced to play No. 1 Eastern View during the semifinals Wednesday in Culpeper. The winner of that game will earn a berth in the Class 4A North Region tournament.

The Cyclones twice beat Fauquier during the regular season, 9-5 and 5-2.

"We have a lot of momentum from" beating Liberty, Simpson said. "I think we realized that we can come back and beat teams. Now I think we're just going to put it on Eastern View."

Against fifth-seeded Liberty, the Falcons fell behind 1-0 in the top of the first inning, but rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the second. Then Liberty regained the lead, 5-3, in the fifth inning, setting up the dramatic seventh.

Simpson's pop single gave Fauquier its second win over Liberty this season. The Falcons beat Liberty, 6-5, in 11 innings earlier this month before losing to the Eagles, 5-4, two weeks ago.

"It's just tough to go out like that, but it's alright," Aylor said of losing again Monday. "They're a good team and I'm glad we played them close again.

"We didn't have a terrible season," the senior said. "I couldn't ask for better players and coaches to end my career with."

Liberty began the season with three consecutive victories, but then lost 10 consecutive games before beating Fauquier on May 17. Similarly, the Falcons had lost eight of their past 11 games entering Monday.

Travis Croson helped overcome that poor momentum with a one-out walk in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Falcons trailed, 5-4. He then stole second base to get into scoring position, but on a seemingly risky play.

O'Saben instructed Croson to take off for second base as soon as Crofford lifted his right leg off the mound. So, with Croson running, Crofford threw to first base in a pick-off attempt. Croson never hesitated, though, and slid into second base before the Eagles' first baseman could relay the ball to that bag.

"That's actually what we wanted to do," O'Saben said. "We knew how his move was to first. I knew [Croson would] be able to out-run the throw" to second.

Croson then advanced to third on a fielder's choice, bringing Simmons to the plate with two outs and a one-run deficit.

"I have a lot of confidence in Charlie," Simpson said. "In these situations he usually hits balls to the fence."

Simmons did just that, hitting a ball off the fence in right-center field for an RBI triple that scored Croson.

Liberty coach Jeff Crane considered intentionally walking Simmons, Fauquier's No. 3 hitter, but opted to challenge him instead with two outs and a runner on third base.

"I thought surely Jeff [Crane] was going to go ahead and walk Charlie," O'Saben said. "When he pitched to Charlie, I couldn't have been happier. Right guy, right time, that's for sure."

Simmons connected with a high fastball from Crofford.

"I was trying just a nice, little, easy swing – making it drop somewhere," Simmons said. "I got a hold of it" instead.

The Falcons struggled to hit Crofford during their earlier loss to Liberty, and they finished Monday with only four hits against him over four innings. Regardless, Crofford took the loss after allowing three earned runs and striking out four.

"A slow fastball that's high – you just want to crush it," Simmons said of the Falcons' issues against Crofford. "You get up on your front foot and pop up instead."

"Hitting elevator shots in the infield," O'Saben said.

Simpson's seventh-inning shot got Fauquier to the proverbial penthouse, though. That hit also helped him make up for an earlier fielding error and a misplayed fly ball that allowed Liberty to score three runs over the fourth and fifth innings.

"He's super mentally tough," O'Saben said of Simpson. "He's got a short memory when a mistake does happen. … And he's not going to shy away from big situations."

Simpson was also Fauquier's starting pitcher. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and a walk over two innings. Sam Tinnesz got the win by allowing one unearned run on three hits while striking out one over three innings.

Liberty's Dylan Ramirez went 2-for-3 with an RBI and run, while Coy Brown went 1-for-2 with a two-RBI double. Aylor went 2-for-4 with an RBI and run, and Tyler Fetherolf went 1-for-2 with two runs.

Aylor was also Liberty's starting pitcher, allowing three runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out two over three innings.

For Fauquier, Simmons went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, while Croson went 2-for-3 with two runs and Tanner Delph went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI.

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