By Doug Barrese
The Peachtree 9U All-Stars made an historic run to the final four of the Cal Ripkin 9U Southeast Regional Tournament in Franklin, Tennessee, July 24 and 25, the best a Crozet team has ever performed in Babe Ruth League play.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late May, 12 nine-year-old boys from Peachtree’s minors bracket, selected after a nomination by their coach and a tryout, had their first team practice at Crozet Park. Players were Andrew Barrese, Matthew Heilman, Michael Holzwarth, James Meenan, Hayden Miller, Jacob Petty, Brendan Quigley, Devin Rachwal, Andrew Shifflett, Isaac Sumpter, and Austin Zimmerman. Their tournament coaches were Matt Winkler, Drew Holzwarth and Austin Zimmerman.
The boys share a love for baseball, a winning attitude and a determination to play hard. They showed grit and pride in how they represented Peachtree baseball, Crozet, and ultimately the state of Virginia, as they advanced to face big city competition in the Southeast Regional.
The journey began with first place finishes in unsanctioned [any team can enter] regional tournaments held in Bridgewater and Spotswood. Entering sanctioned league play, the team had an impressive 8 and 1 record and had outscored their opponents 90 to 15.
The team’s first challenge was to qualify for the state tournament by winning their district, which is composed of eight Central Virginia counties. (The state has 13 districts.) After a surprising loss to the Rockville All Stars (Goochland County), Peachtree won five straight against Northside, Greene, Rockville and Madison (twice), scoring 87 runs and allowing only 26. The winner of the district, Peachtree went on to the state tournament in Sandston, just east of Richmond.
After victories against Manassas and Williamsburg, Peachtree was matched up against the Glen Allen All Stars for a chance to reach the state championship game. Glen Allen proved to be too much, beating Crozet 3 to 1. But after knocking off Arlington 11-0, Peachtree was back to face Glen Allen for a second time, now for the state title. Peachtree fell again, 6 to 1, and finished second in the state with an impressive 19 runs scored to 11 runs allowed.
As the state runner-up, the Crozet boys earned a trip to Tennessee and joined Glen Allen in representing Virginia in the Southeast Regional.
Peachtree got off to a rough start against Atlantic Beach from North Florida, facing a 13 – 4 deficit in the bottom the sixth inning. With tough batting and smart base running, the Peachtree Pride scored an unbelievable 10 runs in the bottom of the sixth to shock Atlantic Beach. Three more victories followed, a 12 – 0 win against Matthews, North Carolina, a 11 – 6 win against Martin, Tennessee and an impressive 17 – 1 win over the host Franklin, Tennessee. After two days of play, Peachtree was the undefeated winner of the American League West division. Meanwhile Glen Allen had been eliminated, but the Glen Allen players and their families stayed to cheer on the Crozet boys. Matthew Heilman, who is also a Crozet Gator swimmer, was in Tennessee for the opening games of the tournament, came back to Charlottesville to swim his races in the JSL Champs meet on Friday and dashed back to Tennessee for the weekend ballgames.
With only eight teams remaining in the single-elimination stage of the tournament, Peachtree defeated Laurinberg, North Carolina with a final score of 12 – 10 and reached the final four. Their opponents were teams from Raleigh, North Carolina and Jacksonville and Miami, Florida. Peachtree finally fell to Okeheelee, 15-1, ending their historic run.
This is only the third Peachtree team in the history of the league to represent Crozet in a Cal Ripken Regional Tournament at any age level. Previously, only one game at this level had ever been won by a Peachtree squad. In the Tennessee tournament the team had an impressive .494 batting average with 76 hits and 67 runs scored. Additionally, the team was recognized for outstanding sportsmanship, receiving the Don Rose Award at the Virginia state tournament.
Congratulations to the 2013 Peachtree 9U All Stars, Cal Ripken District 5 Champions, Virginia state runner up and final four contenders at the Southeast regional tournament.