Everyone wants to go out on their own terms at home. Fluvanna County’s seniors got that chance Tuesday.
In their final home appearance of the 2018 season, Fluvanna extended the program’s historic run with a 5-1 victory over Northside in a VHSL Class 3 state quarterfinal.
“It was special [for] us seniors going out the way we wanted to, winning the first state quarterfinal game, winning the regional,” said senior centerfielder Dashon Carter, who celebrated his eighteenth birthday on Tuesday by driving in three runs. “We have such a young, a great team, I’m just glad to be going on [to the semifinals] as a senior.”
A jam-packed crowd was treated to an efficient, 93-minute showcase by the Region 3C champion Flucos, and the number of underclassmen leading the way could make Palmyra a difficult stop the foreseeable future.
“Hats off to the guy that had this program before, Mike Sheridan, because he laid the foundation,” said Fluvanna coach Joel Gray. “I tell people all the time that he handed me a Cadillac: a bunch of really good young players, and they’ve been fun to work with.”
A pair of sophomores, Andrew Ward and Toby Sherman, combined to keep the Viking offense at bay, scattering six hits. Ward, the lefty starter who has been on a pitch count this season after Tommy John surgery last year, shifted out to left field when Sherman entered to start the fourth inning. With a 5-1 lead, Sherman allowed no walks and was happy to let his defense shine.
“We’ve pitched by committee all season, and we’ve got some guys who can get up there and throw strikes,” Gray said. “I don’t think we’re going to overpower anybody, and we’ll pitch backwards a lot of times, but if we throw strikes, our defense usually has their backs.”
The Flucos’ offense, with four 10th graders atop the batting order, came out hot in the bottom of the first. Cameron Shields singled through the 5-6 hole on the left side and Jacob Critzer singled to right field, where a misplay of the bounce allowed the runners to reach second and third. Cleanup hitter Kevin Ward sent a grounder to second base that induced another error, plating Shields and setting up runners on the corners for Carter.
“I was down two strikes so I had to get in sumo and I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Carter said as he lifted a single to center, driving in two more runs. “We were being really aggressive in the beginning of the game. We were being aggressive in the count, hunting fastballs, and it paid off for us.”
In the third, Northside made a little noise the second time through their order. A leadoff walk to Evan Parks came back to bite Ward as cleanup hitter Austin Atkins came up with two outs and lifted a soft fly ball to shallow center, which fell in front of a diving Carter to become an RBI double. Ward got out without further damage when Sam McLaughlin’s ensuing fly ball stayed up for the right fielder to make the grab.
With its lead cut to 3-1, Fluvanna answered back in the bottom of the frame. Critzer and Ward drew back-to-back walks to start the trouble before Kevin Ward put down a sac bunt to setup second and third with one down. The Vikings then pulled their infield in for senior DH Shaun Holyfield.
“Put the first two guys on, you’re playing with fire there,” said Northside coach Ed Culicerto. “You’re behind the 8-ball. They got them to second and third, gave us an out, so you have to adjust to that or all of a sudden you’re looking at 5-1 and it puts even more pressure on your offense.”
Northside starter Brandon Golden got Holyfield to send a grounder to second, but an errant throw home failed to cut down Critzer, and everyone was safe. With still only one out, Carter then lifted a fly ball to right, enabling Ward to tag and score from third.
“Small ball probably ought to be our middle name,” Gray said. “We had some good things happen after [the leadoff walks]. Any way we can plate a run, we’ll do it.”
McLaughlin took the mound for Northside for the next three innings and kept Fluvanna from inflicting any further damage on the scoreboard, but the Viking offense could not muster much pressure on Sherman. The biggest jam came in the fourth when the first two batters singled and a sacrifice put runners on second and third with one out; however, he proceeded to fan the number nine batter and induce a fly out to left by Parks. Likewise, in the seventh, a two-out double down the left field line did not spiral into a threat as Carter squeezed the next batter’s fly ball to center.
“Toby all year has been our middle relief guy, and he just does what he does,” said Gray. “He’s been our most consistent guy up there, doesn’t rattle a bit. Kids love playing behind him. He gets them ground balls, and he’s been really good for us.”
Fluvanna heads to Salem on Friday for a 1 p.m. Class 3 semifinal showdown with Abingdon, who eliminated Western Albemarle in their quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday.
“We are in uncharted territory and I’m enjoying the ride, and I think they are, too,” Gray said. “We’re going to play loose, and see what happens after that.”