Flucos win State championships

Fluco baseball wins first-ever State championships in 16-10 blowout

By Duncan Nixon, correspondent

The Flying Fluco baseball team did it all. Every time they needed outstanding pitching, they got outstanding pitching. Every time they needed searing bats, they got them. And throughout the playoffs, typical of a championship team, they got great fielding.

In their run to the State Class 3 title, the Flucos won three straight in the Region playoffs, followed by three straight wins in the State tournament.

On Friday (June 14) playing at Kiwanis Field in Salem, Va., the Flucos jumped to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first against the Tabb Tigers from just north of Newport News. The Tigers were forced to play catch-up the rest of the game as the Fluco offense was firing on all cylinders and just kept pouring on the runs.

In the first, senior third baseman Ryan Groome led off and made it to first on an infield error. Junior DH Andrew Ward singled sharply. Senior catcher Jacob Critzer walked to load the bases. Junior first baseman Kevin Ward singled to drive in one. Junior shortstop Cameron Shields grounded to short and the Tigers tried for a double play. Shields beat the throw to first, as a run scored. Sophomore outfielder Mason Gross singled to make it 3-0. Junior outfielder Toby Sherman walked to load the bases again. Batting in the eighth slot, senior second baseman Kyle Algieri then came through with one of the biggest hits of the game – a fly ball to right that just eluded the right fielder and landed for a two run double. Psychologically, a five-run first inning is much bigger than a three-run first inning.

Fluco starting pitcher junior Wyatt Dansey managed to hold the Tigers scoreless in the first and second, although they had two baserunners in each inning. The Flucos really blew things open with four in the top of the third. Algieri opened the inning with a single. He stole second and scored on a two-out single by Andrew Ward, his third of five hits. Jacob Critzer and Kevin Ward then launched back-to-back home runs. Dansey ran into some control problems in the third and the Tigers scored two with only one hit.

The Flucos were far from done. Sherman led off the fourth inning with a home run to left field. Two walks and singles by each of the Wards resulted in two more runs for an 12-2 lead. The Tigers got a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth, but the Flucos again responded with three in the top of the fifth. Singles by Sherman, Algieri and A. J. Brown resulted in one run and Andrew Ward’s double down the right field line drove in two more.

The Tigers would not give up and they scored three in the sixth and three in the seventh, but it was way too late. In the seventh with three in, Algieri was pitching and he induced three consecutive ground balls. Shields made nice plays on the first two and Groome handled a bad hop on a hard shot and threw to Kevin Ward for the final out.

In this game, Andrew Ward was five for six with three RBI. Kevin Ward was three for four with a home run, a walk and four RBI. He also made several excellent picks on low throws at first base. Critzer was two for three with a home run and three walks. Algieri had three hits and Sherman a home run. In a statistic for baseball fanatics, all nine line-up positions recorded at least one RBI.

After the game, Coach Joel Gray noted that his squad demonstrated all year that it can come back after a low scoring game and “tear the cover off.” He noted that due to VHSL rules to prevent overuse of pitchers, he was not able to use either of the Ward brothers on the mound in the championship game, so he had to do a little juggling with his staff. Starter Dansey and relievers Kristian Negron and Algieri did have some control difficulties, but they restricted a strong Tabb squad to only seven hits, while the Flucos recorded 19 hits and also benefitted from wild pitching by Tabb.

June 13 semifinal

In order to reach the finals, the Flucos had to top the Brentsville Tigers, near Manassas, on Wednesday (June 13), also in Salem. This was a tense, hard-fought game from start to finish.

The Tigers scored one in the first. The Flucos bounced back with two in the third, with runs scored on an error and a sacrifice fly.

The Tigers scored two in the top of the fifth to go up 3-2; however, the Flucos responded with two runs as Shields drove in one with a single and Gross plated the other with a sacrifice fly. Brentsville came right back with a run in the sixth to tie the score. The Flucos went up and down in order in the bottom of the sixth. Andrew Ward, on the mound in relief of Kevin Ward, struck out the side in order in the top of the seventh. The stage was set.

With one out, Jacob Critzer stepped in. With two strikes on him, Critzer noted later that he was “just trying to put the ball in play.” However, he got a “low fast ball,” and at the crack of the bat everyone in the stadium knew the game was over. It was a foregone conclusion that the ball would clear the left field fence with plenty of room to spare, for a walk-off home run to send the Flucos to the final.

Critzer had quite a State playoff run. In three games, he was 6-8 at the plate with five walks. He had two home runs – one a game winner. In the crucial semifinal game, he scored three of the Flucos’ five runs. He was also steady and reliable behind the plate for all the innings of every game. Groome was the defensive standout against Brentsville, as he made outstanding plays at third base in the first inning and the sixth to shut down rallies by the Tigers.

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