The fruit dangling at the end of the branch in an All-Jefferson District Region 3C championship between Western Albemarle and Fluvanna County was known coming in — the winner gets to host Northside in the Class 3A quarterfinals, the loser hits the road to Abingdon, just outside of Bristol.
“Abingdon is only on the other end of the earth,” said Western coach Skip Hudgins, who grew up in Radford, an hour and a half from Abingdon. “So we knew what we were playing for.”
Playing for its first ever region championship in program history, the Flucos went with an all-hands of deck pitching performance without having to use Andrew or Kevin Ward who pitched earlier this week. On a truly hot and humid day it proved to work well to quiet the Warrior bats and lead the way to a 4-1 win. And of course, in the process earn that coveted home game to start next week’s state tournament.
“We knew neither one of us wanted to take a long bus ride to Abingdon,” said Fluvanna coach Joel Gray. “Even though (athletic director) Scott Morris promised us a charter bus, we’re fortunate we don’t have to make that trip.”
The Flucos gave the ball to Shaun Holyfield who gave up just one hit and earned the only two strikeouts for Fluvanna in his two innings pitched.
“All three pitchers we put up there, they did a great job,” Gray said. “The big thing we told them was throw strikes and let (Western) put it in play. We didn’t strike many out. They put it play and we made the plays so I’m happy with that.”
Holyfield handed the ball off to Noah Brown who worked out of a jam in the third containing a potential big inning. He was eventually credited with the win and after his two innings, he handed things over to Toby Sherman who pitched the final three and picked up the save. Sherman gave up three base runners but never more than one in an inning to make things easy for a Fluvanna defense that was on point all game.
“I was just trying to keep the ball down (in the zone) get ground balls, not try and do too much,” Sherman said. “You don’t want to go out and throw too hard. It was get ground balls, let the defense make the plays behind me.”
With first baseman Kevin Ward continuing to play at a special level at first base and second baseman Kyle Algieri and shortstop Cameron Shields fielding awfully clean, the Flucos’ game plan worked. And Ward had himself another great day at first.
“He’s one of the best first basemen I’ve been around glove wise,” Gray said. “I’m hoping he takes things seriously because he can play at the next level.”
Fluvanna got on board in the first inning with a walk to Jacob Critzer, a single from Ward and Critzer’s courtesy runner Justin Warner scoring on an error to make it 1-0.
“Going up there, we knew (Derek Domecq), how good of a pitcher he is, throws hard but has good offspeed stuff,” Ward said. “We just watched him a lot and tried to do our thing and hit good pitches.”
The score stayed there until the top of the third where Western rallied for three of its seven hits on the day. The equalizing run came about with a Wyatt Hull single, then a single from Garrett Payne with two outs and then an RBI single from Chris McGahren.
The Flucos reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth with Dashon Carter leading the inning off with a triple. He scored on an squeeze bunt from John Rittenhouse. Shortly thereafter, Rittenhouse scored on an error off a pickoff to make it 3-1.
“I just didn’t think we played very well and I give (Fluvanna) a lot of credit,” said Western coach Skip Hudgins. “I thought they outplayed us. They out-everythinged us.”
In the sixth Fluvanna added a little insurance with Rittenhouse being hit by a pitch, a pair of ground outs to put him on third and then a wild pitch to make it a 3-run lead.
Domecq got the start for Western and wound up breaking two program records in the process, first, the program high’s 36th career start and second by striking out six batters to make that 290 Ks for his career to move into first place. He threw the first three innings.
“I think it’s quite an accomplishment when you consider the names that he has passed,” Hudgins said. “We have a pretty strong tradition in baseball at Western Albemarle so that’s quite an accomplishment. I’m very proud of him.”
With Fluvanna, Western and then in the Region 4D tournament, Powhatan all advancing to their respective state tournaments its the first time the Jefferson District has sent three representatives to the final week of the year. The last time two JD teams made it through to the state tournament was 2012 when Monticello and Powhatan played in the Region II championship game.
For Western, the postgame message was straight forward. The Warriors took down the defending Class 3A champions on Tuesday at Turner Ashby to earn their state bid. So it’s on to Abingdon for a third straight playoff road trip in the last four games.
“We’ll brush this loss off, it’s over with,” Hudgins said. “Our message to them was that once they walk out (of Fluvanna) it’s the last we think about it. We try to move on to get ready for Tuesday and see what happens.”
For the Flucos, who will have both Andrew Ward and Kevin Ward on full rest available to pitch, this is the first trip for a team that’s still awfully young with just two seniors on the roster. Those seniors will get an unlikely opportunity with one final home game.
“It feels good to get here,” Kevin Ward said. “We just can’t get too cocky. We have to go out and play our game.”