The last time I watched Jim Critzer flash that famous ear to ear grin of his before today was moments after Waynesboro defeated Luray in game four of the Finals last season. I had the pleasure of interviewing Critzer while he still had his hands on the trophy but that smile paled in comparison to the one I saw this evening.
One of the most fascinating things for me about the owners of the 11 teams in the Valley League is that they all have "real jobs". Critzer works for a living like all of the others but the difference for the Waynesboro owner is he gets to wear cool uniforms to work and I can tag a long with him for a day.
Critzer is the head baseball coach for the other tenant at Kate Collins Middle School- his Waynesboro Little Giants. Waynesboro captured the regular season crown in the newly formed Southern Valley District which earned them a first round bye on Monday evening.
William Byrd High School (Vinton) advanced to face the Little Generals with a 2-1 victory over Amherst on Monday. The Terriers would find themselves in another thrilling contest on Tuesday at Kate Collins.
Critzer sent Joseph Lucas to the mound for the home team and the young lefty would do his skipper proud. Lucas allowed a lead off single to Brandon Garnett and a RBI single to Stephen Dean before settling down to record three of his 10 strike outs to keep the score 1-0.
Right fielder Terrell Thompson made a diving catch worthy of ESPN consideration in the second inning to back the efforts of Lucas. Lucas retired 8 straight in the middle of the contest and that string was broken only by a dropped third strike in the fifth inning.
Lucas did his best to pitch around the only two errors of the game in the top of the sixth inning but John Conner stroked a RBI double to push the Byrd lead to 2-0. Six outs were all that remained in the game for the Waynesboro nine but Critzer kept working his players confidence at the plate from the third base coaches box.
"We don't have any standouts this team, we simply have 16 real solid ball players and it is a different one that steps up each night," Critzer said. "Tonight it was Terrell and Joseph but I could go right down the list for the season. It might be easier if I just give you our line-up card."
Jeremy Hahn led off the sixth inning with a walk and Stevie Moreland followed with a second base on balls. Derek Hall lined a RBI single to make it 2-1 and Will Freeman walked to keep the rally going.Lucas helped his own cause with a RBI single to tie the score at 2-2 to set the stage for the speedy Thompson.
Thompson beat out a potential double play ball to reach on a fielders choice and when Eric Hall did the same it allowed Freeman to score the third run of the inning and give the Little Giants a 3-2 come from behind victory.
Lucas went back out to the mound to finish what he started by pitching around the 5th Terrier hit he allowed for the game. Short stop Jay Thompson gathered in the final ground ball and fired it across the diamond to Josh Craig to send the Little Giants (16-5) down to Amherst County for the next round on Thursday evening. The next opponnent for Critzer and company will be the winner of Northside and Jefferson Forrest.
Give Coach and his players 24 hours to enjoy this hard fought victory before they lace up the cleats again! I am willing to bet Critzer (and his chewed up ball cap) will keep that smile on his face at least half that long...
When I asked the skipper to describe what the game of baseball means to him, he gave me the only answer I could expect.
"The game of baseball has made me a millionaire," Critzer noted with a smile getting wider by the moment. "It has never been about me, it has always been about the kids."
Final notes- Critzer did give up the game winning line-up card to me and told the story about how his two pups chewed up his cap but after he wore a different one during a loss to Rockbridge his players voted for him to wear the original! Good Luck down in Amherst on Thursday night.
Strasburg (defending A State champs) needed a 3 spot in their final at-bat to defeat Wilson Memorial 5-4 to advance in Region B play. Their game was pushed back one night so now Strasburg will return to action Wednesday night vs. Appomattox at home.