SALEM — Before Thursday, Jacob Critzer had never hit a walk-off home run during his four years with the Fluvanna County baseball program.
It’s safe to say the senior catcher won’t soon forget his first one.
Critzer’s walk-off blast in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Flucos a 5-4 victory over Brentsville District in the VHSL Class 3 state semifinals at Kiwanis Park.
“I was just thinking about putting the ball in play and letting the people behind me do the work,” Critzer said. “But it happened a different way that I never thought would happen in my life.”
That way came in the bottom of the seventh inning with the score tied at 4-4 in Fluvanna’s final at-bat. With a 2-1 count, Brentsville reliever Jake DeLisi tried to sneak a fastball by Critzer, who crushed a towering blast over the netting in left-center field to give the Fluvanna County baseball program its first state championship game berth.
“I was speechless,” Critzer said. “My heart dropped because I never really thought it would happen in my life. It was pretty big because just knowing that we haven’t done this in program history and to be the first to do it is pretty awesome.”
With his teammates waiting to celebrate with him at home plate, Critzer admitted time stood still as he rounded third base.
“It didn’t feel real,” Critzer said. “I didn’t feel like I was myself. I felt like I was something bigger than me. It was the best feeling in my life. I never thought I’d say that, but that was the best feeling in my life.”
It capped a whirlwind game for Fluvanna County (22-3), which was forced to rally three times to eventually win.
Brentsville (21-4) got things started with a bang as Sam Beard deposited a ball over the left field fence to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead two batters into the game.
Flucos starter Kevin Ward walked four batters in the first two innings, but settled down and allowed just two earned runs on four hits in 4 1/3 innings of work.
Coach Joel Ward’s team finally broke through with two runs in the top of the third. Andrew Ward singled and Critzer walked to start the rally. Andrew Ward scored on a throwing error to tie the game at 1-1. Cameron Shields followed with a sacrifice fly to center to plate Critzer and give the Flucos a 2-1 lead.
Brentsville regained the lead with a two-run fourth inning to chase Kevin Ward. Billy Hoad and Beard reached on back-to-back singles to start the rally. Two batters later, Collin Reid and Jake DeLisi followed with consecutive run-scoring hits to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
Andrew Ward entered the game with two on and one out and struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
“I knew I was going to come into the game eventually,” Andrew Ward said. “Kevin’s been throwing the ball really well here recently, but he just started struggling a bit [tonight]. I came in and I was feeling good and I did my job on the mound and our defense was good.”
Fluvanna County regained the lead in the bottom of the inning with two runs of its own. Critzer walked and scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 3-3. Two batters later, Mason Gross delivered a sac-fly to left to plate Kevin Ward for a 4-3 lead.
In the sixth, the Tigers went back to work. Michael Hauge drew a one-out walk and moved to second on a balk. Hoad lined an RBI single to left to tie the game at 4-4. That would be all Brentsville would get as Ward stranded another runner in scoring position to keep the game tied.
Andrew Ward struck out the side in the top of the seventh, including a big punchout of Alex Seymour to end the frame, which fired up his teammates.
“We were hype after Andrew struck out the side because we knew we had at least a little bit of an advantage heading into the bottom of the seventh,” Critzer said.
Andrew Ward had visions of ending the game in the seventh as he led off the inning with a long fly ball to left field that just stayed in the ballpark.
“The seventh inning and striking out the side was big for us,” Andrew Ward said. “Coming back in with our top three batters, I flied out, but we had someone behind me stepping up to save us.”
Critzer picked his teammate up five pitches later with his game-winning blast.
“Jacob hasn’t hit a home run all season and we’re glad that he could step up tonight,” Andrew Ward said. “I was so excited and our fans were going crazy. I was calling it. He hadn’t hit a home run all season and he did and made all of us proud.”
For Critzer, the ending to the game was a fairytale.
“It would’ve been nothing like it was right now,” Critzer said. “Because I never would’ve thought that I would’ve come up in the bottom of the seventh and hit a walk-off home run.”
Andrew Ward allowed one run on two hits and struck out five in 2 2/3 innings of relief to pick up the win for the Flucos. Critzer had two hits and three runs scored to secure a state championship game berth.
Fluvanna County will take on Tabb Friday in the Class 3 state championship game. First pitch is slated for noon at Kiwanis Park.
“We’re just happy to make it further than we did last year,” Critzer said. “We know we’re going to need to work hard to beat Tabb [Friday].”
Now that they’ve reached the finals, Critzer said the goal is simple.
“Win it all,” he said.