Uncharted territory: Fluvanna baseball punches first ever state playoff ticket

Photo: Ryan Yemen

Fluvanna County’s baseball team has never made it to the final tier of the playoffs before. With a 9-4 win over Spotswood in a game where the Flucos were exceedingly patient at the plate, opportunistic with the free bases that the Trailblazers handed out, Tuesday’s win in the Region 3C semifinal didn’t feature a storming celebration afterwards, an ice bath of its coach Joel Gray. And perhaps that’s exactly why Fluvanna has gotten to this point — Gray’s message afterwards to his team was about just how tough things were about to get next week. And on Tuesday his team showed it could win a game doing the little things.


“We hit when we needed to, ran the bases fairly well and just did enough to eek out some runs,” Gray said. “There was nothing really pretty about it, no real hard shots but we will take it. I’ll always take that — getting one base after the other? I’ll always take it.”


Flucos starter Kevin Ward found himself in a bit of trouble early with the bases loaded with two outs. However, a fielder’s choice in the next at bat kept the Trailblazers off the board. In the bottom half of the inning the Flucos drew back-to-back walks to Cameron Shields and Jacob Critzer. A single from Andrew Ward loaded the bases. The Flucos got an RBI infield single from Shaun Holyfield followed with Dashon Carter getting hit by a pitch to make it 2-0. John Rittenhouse grounded into an RBI fielder’s choice two batters later and it was 3-0.


Spotswood got on the board in the top of the second with Kaleb Strawderman getting a single and Ripley Plaster coming up with an RBI double two batters later to cut things to 3-1. Spotswood also got a solid swing of momentum in the bottom of the second with Strawderman robbing Kevin Ward of an RBI with a diving catch in the right gap to centerfield. In the third the Blazers put runners on first and second with nobody out on a walk to Eli Lam and a single from Daniel Ouderkirk. Jacob Dansey then singled to centerfield to load the bases with one out. Strawderman followed that up with a sacrifice fly to centerfield and trimmed the Fluco lead to 3-2. But Ward worked out of it and kept Fluvanna in front.


“Hat’s off to him,” Gray said. “It’d been so long since he last pitched and he a little rust but still got up there and competed. Maybe earlier in the season he’d have tightened up there but he kept looking at me and telling me ‘Hey, I’m good, I’ll fight through it,’ and so that’s all you can ask. You expect him to fight and compete and he did.”


Fluvanna broke the game open though in the fourth. A walk to Shields and back-to-back singles from Critzer and Andrew Ward loaded the bases with one out. Then one thing after another broke the Flucos’ way — Kevin Ward was hit by a pitch, Holyfield drove in another run on an error, Kyle Algieri walked with the bases loaded and Jeremy Warner scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-2. The nail in the coffin though was Rittenhouse’s 2-run 2-out double to put his team up 9-2.


“We just scrapped for it all,” Rittenhouse said. “You always run everything out, every little thing counts. You never let up, you always keep going for it.”


Spotswood picked up a pair of runs in the sixth inning on an RBI single from Strawderman and Chase Meadows scoring on a wild pitch.


Algieri came on in relief for Ward in the fifth with two outs and wrapped up the win giving up just one hit and a walk.


On the day, Andrew Ward was 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Holyfield was 2-for-3 with two RBI. Rittenhouse was 1-for-3 with three RBI. Critzer went 1-for-3 with two runs scored.


The Flucos will host Western Albemarle in a third meeting, this time in the Region 3C championship. The winner will get to host a Class 3A quarterfinal. And for Gray and his crew, while they’re excited to be in this position, humility is the focal point.


“I’m never happy, always wanting to do better,” Gray said. “(If we won it all) I’d just worry about next year. But I’m kidding a bit, we’ve got a good young team and all I want is for them to just play well together and enjoy this experience. Whatever happens, happens.”


That’s a good place to be when you’re roster is young, talented and treading in unfamiliar territory.


“It feels great,” Rittenhouse said. “We’ve just been grinding.”