by David Wagner
The 11-year-old Little League district All-star tournament was hosted recently at Crozet Park, where the local Peachtree league plays their games. The hometown boys were a part of this tournament, and in front of the home crowds, the boys did not disappoint. This age group of ball players has been a staple in the post-season play for Peachtree for 3 years now, and once again the boys hoped to advance past the district round of play. Because of the district tournament set up, the top three finishers in the tournament would be advancing to the state tournament; it is usually the top two finishers, but because Rockville Little League is hosting the state tournament, the top two teams in the district besides Rockville will be able to advance.
The Peachtree team began the tournament on a high note, defeating the team from Greene County 12-6. Peachtree’s first match-up in the winner’s bracket was against the team from Fluvanna County, and the local boys in white and blue were beaten 10-0 with the slaughter rule in 4 innings. In game three of the tournament for Peachtree they once again faced off against Greene County in an elimination game, with the winner claiming the third overall slot in the district—therefore, a bid into the state tournament. Using the confidence that they had gained in their first victory over Greene, Peachtree was able to win again, beating Greene 8-2. This victory meant that Peachtree would have to play Rockville in another elimination game to see which team would advance to the district tournament final against the undefeated Fluvanna team.
Peachtree was the home team in the game against Rockville, and Matt Shoeb was the starting pitcher. Shoeb got off to a bit of a rocky start against the opponents wearing purple, but settled down and gave up only one run in the top of the first inning.
In the bottom of the first, Chris Hughes got Peachtree going with a lead-off bunt single, and then stole second. Hughes advanced to third after being picked off at second and forced into a rundown. After a Shoeb strike out, Spencer Eldridge made his way up to the plate and hit a long fly ball over the left center fence for a two-run home run. With Eldridge’s blast Peachtree was able to take a 2-1 lead over Rockville, but they could not add on any more runs during the first frame.
Shoeb continued to throw the ball well and did not allow Rockville another run in the top of the second inning, and Peachtree carried this momentum into the bottom of the frame with them. The second inning would be a tale of the stolen base for Peachtree; with the boys in blue taking 8 bases. David Strucko began the saga with a line drive into left field. Strucko proceeded to steal second, third, and home for Peachtree’s third run. Lorenzo Carazanna continued the theme; after drawing a walk he also stole second, third, and eventually home, making the score 4-1 Peachtree. Chris Hughes stepped to the plate for his second at-bat and also walked. Hughes took second and third, but was caught stealing home for the third out of the inning. Although Hughes was caught stealing, the aggressiveness that the boys had on the base paths enabled them to extend their lead to 3 runs.
Once again, Shoeb cruised through the Rockville batters without allowing a run, but this time Peachtree could not add to their lead. Nathan Peterson got Peachtree off to a good start in the bottom on the third inning with a sharp single into center field, but was later caught trying to steal second. Stephen Kujak drew a walk, and Bryce Whitehurst hit a line drive single into left field, but neither of the Peachtree base runners was able to cross home plate.
Rockville was able to get a run back from Shoeb in the top of the fourth, when one of their runners scored on a passed ball. Peachtree was able to get more base runners in the bottom of the fourth, with Hughes drawing another walk and Shoeb helping himself out with a single, but once again Peachtree was not able to capitalize with runners in scoring position and took a 4-2 lead into the top of the fifth inning.
Shoeb trotted out onto the mound in the fifth inning and continued to throw the ball well for his teammates. He would need these teammates in the frame, as Matt Donaldson made a spectacular catch in right field that most definitely saved an extra base hit. With the air deflated from their balloon, Rockville was not able to begin another rally after Donaldson’s catch, and the score remained 4-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, Donaldson decided that he was not finished disrupting Rockville’s plans. After Strucko, Kujak, and Ryan Jones all drew walks, Donaldson showed his patience and good eye at the plate and drew a bases-loaded walk to drive in another run. Chris Hughes stepped to the plate intending to continue his big day and doubled, driving in Kujak and Jones. Donaldson was caught trying to take third on Hughes’ shot, but the damage had already been done; the score was now 7-2 Peachtree.
Because Shoeb had thrown an inning in the previous game, he could not come out to the mound and finish what he had begun (there are pitching limitations in Little League play to ensure the safety of young pitchers’ arms) and Hughes came into the game in relief, attempting to shut the game down. He also got off to a rocky start, giving up a home run to the first batter that he faced. The lead was down to 4. The next batter singled, then later stole second. Hughes recorded his first out of the inning with a ground-out to himself; he fielded the ball and made a good throw to first, so Peachtree needed only two more outs for the victory. Hughes walked the next Rockville batter, who also stole second, while Hughes struck out his teammate for the second out of the inning. With runners on second and third, a Rockville player hit a double, scoring two more runs, cutting the lead to two. On the next batter, Ryan Jones, who had come in to replace Hughes at shortstop while he was pitching, made a great play on a hot-shot ground ball and his throw beat the runner to first on a bang-bang play to end the game in exciting fashion.
With their victory over Rockville, Peachtree earned a spot in the district final against Fluvanna, a game that they would later lose.