In the more than six decades since its inception, Crozet’s Peachtree baseball league has only qualified five teams for the Babe Ruth Southeast Regional Tournament. Two of those were this year: the All-Star 12U and 11U boys both earned bids to the big time after finishing second in their respective Virginia state tournaments. The 12U team was able to accept the invitation, and ended up finishing fourth in the southeast, playing teams from Florida and North Carolina and putting Peachtree on the map.
The 12U boys’ trip to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the Regional tournament, which started July 11, was the culmination not just of a season of hard work, but years of it. Most of the boys on the team, who all attend Henley Middle School, have been playing together for years, and they had Regionals as their goal going into this season. The 12U All-Stars, which is a group composed of selected players from all the twelve-year-old-and-under teams in the Peachtree league, came into the district tournament favored to win, because they had won last year at the 11U level. Head Coach John Thomas, who has been coaching in Peachtree for eight years and with this particular group of boys since 2015, when they were 10, said the three games they had to play in route to their district victory were hard-fought.
With the district championship complete, the boys advanced to the State Tournament, where they placed third last year. Determined to do better this time around, the boys achieved their goal. First, on July 1, they took down Stafford, hitting five home runs in a row and 10 total in the game.
Coach Thomas praised his players, “I knew we could hit, and we were peaking at the right time, but that game showed the power the team had.” Fueled by that power, they advanced to the finals, where they faced Glen Allen, a perennial state powerhouse among all the Cal Ripkin/Babe Ruth baseball teams. The only team to beat the Peachtree Pride in two years of state tournament games, Glen Allen got the best of the Crozet ballplayers again this year, but that didn’t diminish the impressive feat of making it all the way to the championship game, especially when one considers the huge numbers the Richmond-area team draws from compared to Crozet. More importantly, the second-place state finish meant our hometown boys qualified for the Southeast Regional, becoming only the fourth team in the history of Peachtree in Crozet to do so.
Thomas believes there are many reasons this team was so successful, including first and foremost the friendship among the boys and the team’s focus on being good people, not just good players. “We always had a saying on the team, ‘If you work hard and have a positive attitude, good things will happen,’” Thomas said. “We never purposely talked about ‘winning,’ but about ‘good things.’ That’s true in life. If you work hard and you have the right attitude, good things happen.”
Clearly, it was true for the Pride. In the Regional tournament, the boys lost to Atlantic Beach, Florida 7-4. They then rebounded to beat East Catawba, North Carolina 14-3 and Orlando, Florida 4-2. Thomas cites the Orlando came as an example of the 12U boys’ grittiness: “Orlando was a very good team. We played perfect defense that game, and worked really hard to pull out that close win.” The win sent them into a rematch with East Catawba, which they lost 11-6, putting them in 4th place overall, behind Atlantic Beach, the champion, Glen Allen, the runner-up, and East Rowan. The entire tournament was a thrill for players and coaches alike, who all enjoyed the camaraderie amid the competition, hanging out at the pool and watching other games together.
That togetherness defined the team all season, and Thomas knows it was crucial to the team’s success, too. “We have parents who are supportive of their child as well as the team,” he said. And the support comes from the broader Crozet community too, as evidenced by an online GoFundMe campaign that raised money to help cover some hotel, food, and travel costs for the team. Thomas expressed his gratitude: “I am thankful for a community that supports us in such a positive way. We had a great support system from the Crozet community and the Peachtree league.”
Some of that intra-league support came from the 11U team, the other Peachtree team to earn an invite to Regionals. Though the 11-year-olds weren’t able to accept the offer, as only the fifth ever team from Crozet to qualify, they had an exceptional season, too. With a record of 13-3, the 11U All-Stars took the league by storm, winning both their early season tournaments and then going on to take the district crown.
The district tournament, held in Rockville, started with a drubbing of Fluvanna, 13-2. Then the Peachtree boys beat Northside, last year’s district champion, 16-5. Since the tournament is double-elimination, though, they had to play Northside again to unseat the defending champions. In that second game, Northside beat them 6-4, sending both teams into a final showdown for the title. In the championship game, played just hours later, Northside came out strong on the heels of their win, going up on Crozet 10-2 by the bottom of the fourth. But the Crozet kids rallied. They scored five runs that inning, then three more in the fifth, so it was a tied game, 10-10, going into the sixth, the final inning at this level of play. Northside scored one run in the top of the sixth. But one wouldn’t be enough: Crozet scored two, to walk off with a 12-11 win and the district title. Head Coach Ben Jones recalled the mental and physical effort it took: “We had lost that morning, so the kids were down. And then we were down 10-2, so the kids were really down. But they didn’t give in, they didn’t hang their heads. We finally woke up and started hitting. It took a lot of hitting to get us there. But the fans started cheering, and the kids, they just went nuts.”
Taking down last year’s champions was a big deal for the Peachtree 11U boys, who then went on to the state tournament. They beat Keezletown and Stafford before falling to Glen Allen, then beating Stafford again, and then falling to Glen Allen in the championship game, just as their older compatriots at the 12U level did. But the runner-up finish earned them an invitation to Regionals, too. Though the 11U boys weren’t able to make the trip to their Regional tournament, which was held in Florida, their dominant performances at districts and states as well the invitation itself all prove how far the Peachtree league has come in recent years.
“Two years ago we didn’t have enough kids to make an All-Star team. Last year we had to beg and plead to get kids to stand in a picture to make it look like we had enough kids for a team. So to win our district was huge for us and then to be runner up at states, beat those kids from Northern Virginia, that was a thrill,” Coach Jones explained. He also praised his players’ growth not just as hitters—they batted .360 in districts—but also on defense. In the second state tourney game against Stafford, the boys held their opponent to only three hits and made zero errors. “A hallmark of our team, which I’m really proud of, not only are they a hitting team but they’ve become a clean fielding team as well. Watching them play at this age, it’s really clean baseball. A team’s got to work to get anything against us,” Jones says.
As with the 12U boys, most of these 11U boys have been playing together for years, and hopefully they will continue to. Jones, like Thomas, credits the league and the community in addition to the kids and families themselves, for the growth of the sport here in Crozet: “Peachtree has done a good job embracing higher levels of baseball as well—elite teams, travel teams, stuff like that. We’ve got a good mix at Peachtree and because they work with it instead of against it, we’ve been able to attract really good players. It’s growing right now!” And it’s not just growing in size or talent; it’s also growing in spirit. The league forms a tight-knit community, and kids from different age groups come out to cheer each other on. And now they can cheer on their sisters on the softball field, too, since Peachtree added softball for the first time this year, in an inaugural season full of successes already chronicled in the Gazette. Clearly in Crozet, America’s pastime is not merely surviving, but thriving.