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Fauquier beats Kettle Run with walk-off single in baseball slug fest

Friday, Apr. 17 | By Jeff Malmgren
Fauquier High sophomore Nick Farris beats a throw to home to score the game-winning run on Jacob Evans single that gave the Falcons a 10-9 win over Kettle Run on Friday night at Athey Field. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
For a meaningless baseball game, they sure engaged in a vigorous tug of war.

Fauquier and Kettle Run combined for 23 hits Friday and exchanged the lead four times in a contest that had no bearing on either team's playoff aspirations.

"But it still means something," Falcons junior Travis Croson said. "Bragging rights."

Fauquier earned those by hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat the Cougars, 10-9, at home in Warrenton. Jacob Evans provided the winning hit with an infield ground ball while Nick Farris scored the deciding run by beating a throw home from Kettle Run first baseman Tyler Johnson.

"Incredible," Farris said. "Just crazy."

Plenty of Farris' teammates felt equally elated. Winning pitcher Henry Delavergne, for example, told his coach, Matt O'Saben, that he'd probably remain too wired to sleep later in the night.

"He's so excited he doesn't know what to do," O'Saben said. "Whether he should cry or laugh or whatever."

So, yeah, beating Kettle Run meant plenty to the Falcons despite the game's non-conference status.

Both teams are undefeated in their respective conferences with Fauquier at 4-0 in Conference 22 (8-1 overall) and Kettle Run 2-0 in Conference 27 (6-2). Those resumes made their Friday match-up a good one, but imagine what this rivalry game will mean to the participants next season when it does carry playoff ramifications, as it did a few years ago.

The Falcons and Cougars are both members of the Evergreen District during the regular season, but districts ceased to be part of the VHSL postseason structure following the 2012-13 school year. VHSL expanded from three classes to six and realigned according to conferences, which now determine the playoff fields. Fauquier ended up in the Class 4A Conference 22 while Kettle Run joined 3A Conference 27.

Next season, however, both will play in Conference 22.

"It'll be great," O'Saben said. "I'd rather go through those guys [to advance in the playoffs] than find an easier way through.

"A lot of these kids have played with those kids since they were five years old," he said. "You get in a game like that and emotions run high, and it always has a playoff-type atmosphere. … Always fun, and weird things happen."

On Friday, for example, Fauquier and Kettle Run combined for 15 singles, eight errors, seven doubles, seven walks, four sacrifices, three steals, two wild pitches, one hit batsman and one home run.

"Next year's going to be ugly and wild," Kettle Run coach Ty Thorpe said. "It's going to be crazy. ... It's going to be fun again."

The Falcons, of course, had plenty of fun Friday, especially Farris, Evans and Delavergne — all sophomores who played more significant roles than usual. Evans' game-winning hit came as a pitch hitter, Farris scored as a pinch runner and Delavergne got the win in his first pitching appearance of the season.

"We preach it takes 13 guys to win a game because there are 13 guys on this roster," O'Saben said. "And that was a perfect example. … That's a total team effort."

Delavergne began the game as Fauquier's center fielder but moved to the mound during the top of the seventh inning in relief of Brandon Cross, who also hadn't pitched all season but retired the first five batters he faced before walking back-to-back Cougars with two outs in the seventh. So Delavergne took over with runners on first and second.

He quickly ended the Kettle Run threat by striking out Brenton Doyle, who went 3-for-4 in the game with two RBIs and two runs scored.

"It's exciting to see a kid get an opportunity to contribute like that and then to see him light up like that when he's able to come through," said O'Saben, who also appreciated Cross' effort. "They've thrown nothing but bullpens and inter-squad games. So to have them step up like that in a big varsity situation" is great.

Fauquier starting pitcher Gavin Cranford lasted only 3 2/3 innings as Kettle Run took a 2-0 lead in the third inning and an 8-5 advantage with a six-run fourth inning. Plus, potential relief pitcher Ryan Simpson (0-for-1, two RBI, two sacrifices, one run) tweaked a ribs injury while playing right field, making him unavailable to pitch, and Chandler Kezele was unavailable after throwing seven innings Thursday during a 9-0 win over Eastern View.

"So I was getting pretty deep into my bullpen," O'Saben said.

Thus, Delavergne pitched. Even after striking out Doyle, though, Delavergne (1-for-2, two runs) needed help from Fauquier's offense to get the win because the Cougars still led, 9-8, entering the bottom of the seventh.

Simpson led off that half of the inning by reaching on a hit-by-pitch. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and then scored the tying run on an error by Kettle Run second baseman Max Lilek, who came off the bench mid-inning in concert with a pitching change.

Farris, meanwhile, entered the game as a pinch runner for Ty Pavlock (2-for-3, two RBIs, two runs, one double), who walked following Simpson's at bat. Farris advanced to third on the Cougars' error and then Kettle Run pitcher Hayden Lilek intentionally walked Croson (2-for-3, two RBI, double, run) to bring Evans to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs.

Evans hit a ball down the first-base line to Johnson, who fielded the ball well in front of the bag. Nonetheless, with Fauquier's runners moving on contact, Farris was able to beat the throw home.

"I had all sorts of emotions running through me," Farris said. "I knew it was over. It was close, but I had confidence."

That completed the Falcons' rally from an 8-5 deficit.

"It was starting to get a little ugly," O'Saben said after the Cougars scored six runs in the fourth inning. "These [Falcons] just battle so hard and they just refuse to lose. … A team that doesn't have the same intestinal fortitude isn't going to be able to overcome that" deficit.

"Having a cute little kitten on the wall that's some type of motivational poster saying 'No quit,' that's one thing," O'Saben said. "But we truly believe that hard work will beat talent when talent doesn't work as hard."

The Falcons' effort validated O'Saben's approach to practice, which includes creating adverse situations that challenge his players mentally and physically.

Umpires added a similar circumstance in the second inning Friday. Croson scored when Kettle Run pitcher Reid Merriken threw a ball high to first base. An umpire ruled that Johnson pulled his foot off the bag to reach that throw, but another umpire later overturned the call, erasing Croson's run and ending the inning.

The Cougars, of course, showed similar resolve. They rallied after trailing 5-2 entering the fourth inning. Jason Alvarez sparked that comeback with a three-run home run that scored Merriken and Adam Nibecker.

Alvarez (2-for-3) also hit a double out of the No. 9 spot in the Cougars' batting order, later scoring the run that gave them a 9-8 lead in the fifth inning.

"He's just a second leadoff hitter," Thorpe said. "You've always got to have someone at the bottom that can turn the order over and Jason's been there for two years. He does a great job and swings the bat well."

Most of the Cougars have done that this season. They average 8.9 runs per game.

On Friday, Kettle Run hitters often swung early in the count to amass 11 hits.

"Last year I thought we took too many pitches early in the count and … it's really tough when you're down 0-2," Thorpe said. "So we've kind of been preaching this year, 'Be aggressive early."

Joining Alvarez and Doyle with strong offensive nights, Hayden Lilek went 2-for-4 with two runs and a double.

For Fauquier (12 hits), Blaze O'Saben went 2-for-3 with two runs and a double, while Tanner Delph went 2-for-3.

The Falcons also benefited from three Kettle Run errors. Worse yet, Fauquier had five errors.

"Lots of runs for the fans to see, but I thought defensively it was very, very poorly played," Thorpe said.

"Killed both teams," Croson said. "I think just because we were trying so hard to beat them because it's Kettle Run. We just let the emotions get the best of us; tried to make everything too perfect."

Both teams will expect better defensive play when they play again May 15. That, of course, will be another non-conference game.

"There's really nothing [of importance] to it," Thorpe said. "What county championship do you win? There's not one.

"But you still don't want to lose to them," he said of Friday's game. "It's going to be a tough one to swallow."

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