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Fluvanna baseball players hope to cap decade-long run together with title

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PALMYRA—When the Fluvanna County baseball team takes the field Thursday night at Kiwanis Field in Salem, it will mark the second straight year the Flucos have advanced to the Virginia High School League Class 3 state semifinals.

For eight members of the team, the journey to Virginia high school baseball’s premier event has been more than a decade in the making.

Kyle Algieri, Ryan Groome, Drew Pace, Toby Sherman, Cameron Shields, Andrew Ward, Kevin Ward and Justin Warner set the foundation for the championship pedigree in 2009 as members of the Fluvanna Baseball League.

“Eight of us have been playing together since we were six and seven years old,” Algieri said. “We have won five total state championships between all-stars and travel baseball together.”

The teammates won the 8U Cal Ripken Baseball district and state championship and came back and successfully defended their title as 9-year-olds. The group went on to represent Virginia during the 2010-11 Ripken Baseball Southeast Regional finals.

“This group is so special because we grew up together on the ball field and are all best friends,” said Andrew Ward. “Our families are all great friends. We have had 10 years of baseball trips together, all over the Southeast.”

It was evident early that this team had talent. From hitting back-to-back home runs multiple times in a game to turning double plays, Sherman knew early that this group of guys were special.

“[We all had] the love of the game and the support for each other, both on and off the field,” Sherman said. “Over the years, we have moved from raw talent to skilled players with depth of knowledge of the game. They also moved into roles—infield, outfield and pitcher—that help the team win and stay away from individual accomplishments. Now, with our current teammates and coaches, it has all come together.”

A.J. Bowman served on the coaching staff of those all-star teams, along with Mike Shields, Mike Algieri and Nick Sherman, and he had a good feeling about this group back then too.

“The summer of 2009, that’s when I knew they were good,” Bowman said. “In the summer of 2010, standing in the outfield with the team after winning the 8U state tournament is when I knew they were special.”

Even though they played on all-star teams, the group excelled as a unit, not as individuals.

“There was never really one great player,” Andrew Ward said. “All of us were exceptional in the positions that we played. That is why we have been able to contribute, along with our teammates, to our Fluvanna teams being successful.”

Jacob Critzer joined the group in middle school and made the team even better.

“There was never really a single leader until Jacob Critzer came into the group in middle school,” Algieri said. “We all gained inspiration and enthusiasm through our love of each other and the game of baseball. We are always there for each other, on and off the field, year-round, not just in season.”

The success continued as the players made the jump to high school ball. Last year, the group reached the Class 3 state tournament for the first time in program before falling to Abingdon in the state semifinals.

The bus ride home to Palmyra was tough.

“Last year saw history made, but lessons were learned in handling stress and expectations,” Sherman said. “This year seems that it could be our time, but the stress level is lower. We trust each other and our teammates to do our jobs and move forward one game at a time. Having been there once, we have faith as a team we can perform to our potential.”

Fluvanna County coach Joel Gray used the loss as motivation as the Flucos prepared for the 2019 season. They adopted the motto “Unfinished Business” and Gray had T-shirts printed up with a picture of the state on the front and the number 136.2, which signifies the miles from Palmyra to Salem.

“We knew we would be a strong contender to get back to Salem having only lost three seniors last year,” Algieri said. “We have such great chemistry and trust in each other and Coach Gray’s team motto has been unfinished business all year.”

The numbers speak for themselves.

Fluvanna County (21-3) enters Thursday’s state semifinal game against Brentsville District with a lot of confidence. Gray’s team has won 17 of its last 18 games.

“Being together over 10 years has let us know each other’s tendencies and moods,” Sherman said. “We know when to support, when to challenge and when to press. We know any one person can make the play we need to break open a game or spark a comeback. We trust and believe in each other. It with a FCHS state championship would be sweet.”

Sherman credits an early season loss to Jefferson District rival Orange County for setting the tone for the rest of the season.

“We learned about losing, but not letting it define our season,” Sherman said. “We came back with solid district wins. With three losses, after each we came back strong. That first loss maybe taught us to take nothing for granted and work one game at a time toward our goal of a state championship.”

The next step in the journey is Thursday, when the Flucos return to historic Kiwanis Field.

The first state baseball championship in program history is within sight.

“This is the perfect opportunity to add the final exclamation point to a story that started 10 years ago,” Bowman said. “A story filled with laughter and tears, trophy ceremonies, scrubbing uniforms, MRI’s, long, hot practices and emergency trips to the dentist to fix broken teeth, hotel pools, thoughts of miles in the car, funerals, hospital visits, sleepovers, dugout jokes, beach trips, surgeries, mohawks, eye black, high-fives and hugs. There’s no better to finish this story than bringing home the ring.”

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John Harvey covers Central Virginia high school sports for The Daily Progress and CVille Varsity.

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