2024-06-22 12:28 PM

Sunday Victory over Tuckahoe Highlights FC Red State Trip

A thrilling 4-3 victory over Tuckahoe on Sunday morning kept Falls Church in the running to play on in the Little League Majors State Tournament at Richlands, Va. But when all the first-round games in Pool Three were done on Monday, FC Red was in a three-way tie for the right to advance, and a tie-breaker scheme left them on the outside looking in.

A thrilling 4-3 victory over Tuckahoe on Sunday morning kept Falls Church in the running to play on in the Little League Majors State Tournament at Richlands, Va. But when all the first-round games in Pool Three were done on Monday, FC Red was in a three-way tie for the right to advance, and a tie-breaker scheme left them on the outside looking in.

Ironically, the tie-breaker rule favored Tuckahoe, the very team Falls Church had defeated Sunday. And the other team that advanced from Pool Three was SYA West, which Falls Church pushed to the limit on Saturday before losing 8-6.

Proving that Falls Church’s first-round opponents were the toughest of any in the State Tournament, both Tuckahoe and SYA West ended up as the two finalists for the state championship. They began a best-of-three series on Wednesday.

“Part of me is disappointed that we didn’t get a shot to continue,” said FC Red Manager Mike Goldsmith. “But ALL of me is proud that we played those two teams so tough, tougher than anybody else did. I can live with being the third-best team in the state!”

Falls Church ended the All Star tournament season with an 8-2 record, successfully defending the Little League District 4 Majors title that Falls Church’s 11-12 team won in 2005. That was the first Majors championship for a Falls Church team since 1960, and this year’s repeat title marks the first time since 1957-58 that Falls Church has won back-to-back Little League District crowns.

An astounding number of FC Red loyalists made the 360-mile trek from Northern Virginia to the mountains of southwest Virginia to watch the State Tournament action in Richlands, a slice of bucolic Americana with a Little League complex smack in the center of town that is a source of great civic pride.

The FC Red faithful saw a corker of a game on Sunday, when Falls Church jumped out to a 2-0 lead, Tuckahoe inched back to tie it and go up by one, Falls Church regained the lead, and then, in the final inning, Tuckahoe got the tying and winning runs in scoring position before FC Red’s defense slammed the door to preserve the 4-3 win.

Batting first, Tuckahoe thought it was sitting pretty when its first two batters singled. But then Falls Church showed it had brought its “A” game when shortstop James Essex, second baseman David Peterson and first baseman Jon Freeman crisply turned a double play and starting pitcher Mitch MacKeith got a strikeout for the third out.

Falls Church’s scoring began with its first man to bat, Essex, who clobbered a ball so far past the center field fence that it landed across the street in the Magic Mart parking lot. It was the fourth time in the All Star tournament season that Essex had hit a leadoff homer. The rattled Tuckahoe pitcher then gave up a base on balls to Tom Terwilliger. He moved to second on a perfect MacKeith sacrifice bunt, to third on a Freeman single up the
middle, and finally to home on a wild pitch.

But the solid Tuckahoe team, champions of the Richmond-area District 5, regained its composure and fought back. In the second inning, they got on the board with a leadoff double and then an RBI single. The next two balls were well-hit to the outfield, but Mike Pacheco caught one in left, and Terwilliger the other in center, to hold the score at 2-1.

In the third inning, Tuckahoe’s leadoff man singled and scored on a deep sacrifice fly to center. Danny Mendez, then playing center field for Falls Church, made a tough catch on that fly to limit the damage to just one run scored.

In the middle innings, FC Red couldn’t get much going offensively: Michael Evans singled in the third and Tyler Duncan led off the fourth with a walk, but neither sparked a flame.

MacKeith pitched through the fourth inning for FC Red, striking out four, walking one, scattering five hits and leaving with the score knotted 2-2.

Terwilliger came on in relief in the fifth, and the Falls Church defense behind him continued robust. On a nice Tuckahoe bunt, alert FC Red third baseman William Nixon charged in, plucked up the ball and rifled it to Freeman at first to beat the runner. But one Tuckahoe batter hit a ball beyond the defense’s reach: a home run that gave his team its first lead, 3-2.

Falls Church wasted no time coming back. Essex led off in the bottom of the fifth. Tuckahoe, mindful of his earlier home run, pitched gingerly around him and yielded a base on balls. Terwilliger then battled to a full count and also walked. That set the table for MacKeith, who smacked a double to the left field fence, scoring Essex and Twig and putting FC Red back up, 4-3.

Tuckahoe was down to its last three outs, and Frankie Hall got one for FC Red when he fielded a grounder hit to him at third base and threw across to Freeman at first. When Tuckahoe got its next two men on, Manager Goldsmith called on Hall to relieve Terwilliger on the mound. Hall’s first pitch jammed the Tuckahoe batter into a hopper that Freeman handled for an unassisted out at first. Tuckahoe had runners at second and third, but their batter grounded to second baseman Robbie Clark, who threw to first for the third out, touching off a big victory celebration among the FC Red team and its supporters in the stands.

The day before, in its contest against SYA West, Falls Church played excellent baseball and went into the fifth inning with a 5-4 lead, only to see the game slip away on a bases-loaded freak fly down the left field line. The ball looked to be sailing foul, but was held up by a sudden gust of wind and landed just fair, scoring three runs.

SYA West, District 10 champions from the Chantilly area, bolted from the gate with a double and a home run, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning with just one out. But unflappable FC Red starting pitcher Peterson and his infield defense of Freeman, Clark, Essex and Hall buckled down and retired the next eight batters, freezing SYA at two runs through the top of the third inning.

Falls Church finally got some base runners in the bottom of the third, courtesy of SYA’s pitcher, who lost track of the strike zone and walked leadoff batters Essex and Terwilliger. Evans then pummeled one to the fence in right, scoring Essex and moving Twig to third base; from there, a wild pitch sent him scurrying in to tie the game at 2-all.

Essex took the mound for Falls Church in the fourth. Against him, it was feast or famine for SYA: Essex got two strikeouts, but he also gave up two solo home runs, and left fielder Mikey Ferguson spared Falls Church further trouble by running in to catch a fly for the third out, keeping SYA’s lead at 4-2.

Surging back in the bottom of the fourth, Falls Church capitalized on three walks and two timely hits to take the lead for the first time. The walks were drawn by Tyler Morris, Essex and Terwilliger; the hits were by Hall, a single, and MacKeith, a two-RBI double that gave FC Red a 5-4 advantage.

Then came the fateful fifth. SYA got a leadoff home run to make it 5-all, then loaded the bases on a single, a double and a walk. Essex pitched his second strikeout of the inning, so the three SYA runners were going when their next batter looped one over third. Aided by a gust, it fell fair by a hair, and all three runners came into home, putting SYA up 8-5.

Falls Church had two innings to mount a comeback, but a handsome SYA double play snuffed FC Red hopes in the bottom of the fifth. In the sixth, Essex hit a solo homer to close the gap to 8-6, but SYA gave no further ground.

The quality baseball that FC Red played against Tuckahoe and SYA helped suppress the memories of one disastrous inning in the team’s opening State Tournament game, on Friday against McIntire, the District 14 champions from Charlottesville.

That was a tense contest for a time, with McIntire leading just 2-0 after two innings. But in the top of the third, everything that could go wrong for Falls Church did, as a combination of five fielding errors, two walks and three hits allowed McIntire to score at will and put the game completely out of FC Red’s reach. The final was 12-0.
The only plus marks for Falls Church were a double by MacKeith and singles by Pacheco and catcher Duncan, who also made a couple of putouts at the plate that kept his team from losing by an even bigger margin.

Embarrassed by that debut, FC Red rallied for the weekend games, and with its strong showings against SYA and Tuckahoe proved that it could play ball with the state’s very best.





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