Just two more: Valley wins second straight Central Regional Championship

Published 5:34 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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For the second straight season, the Valley Rams left Bill Harris Arena as the 5A Central Regional champs this time with a 62-53 win over Demopolis. 

“Hats off to Demopolis,” Valley coach Marshon Harper said. “They came in with a good game plan and played a big game. Hats off to them, but hats off to my guys also. We had to fight through a little adversity, but that’s what builds champions. Just proud of them. We stuck in it and won the game.” 

The first half was as back-and-forth as it gets in high school basketball. There were three lead changes and four ties in the first two quarters, but the Rams flipped the game on its head in the second half. 

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The Rams took control of the game right before halftime, and Valley never relinquished the lead in the second half. Cam Dooley, who was named tournament MVP, came out on fire in the second half. Dooley scored the first nine points for Valley in the third period as the Rams pushed their lead to 13 heading into the final period.
“Coach told me I wasn’t playing hard enough,” Dooley said. “He told me last year in the championship game, and he told me I had to come out and play harder.” 

Dooley led the Rams on Wednesday as he has all season, finishing with 20 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. 

Demopolis continually fought back in the fourth quarter and even cut the game to single digits on multiple occasions, but the Rams always had a response. 

Brandon Thomas followed Dooley with 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Ian Crim-Davis added 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. Both Crim-Davis and Thomas were named to the all-tournament team alongside Dooley. 

Crim-Davis came off the bench last season during Valley’s championship run. This season, Crim-Davis got the starting nod and made sure to make the most of it. 

“Well, I’ve still got to improve my game,” Crim-Davis said. “Coming off the bench last year made me feel like I had a chip on my shoulder. I’m going to keep that same energy and try to win this final four and win this other championship.” 

The win on Wednesday not only secures the Rams its second straight state semifinal appearance, it also means that Valley’s dominant senior class will play at least one more game together. 

Coach Harper and this senior class have been together since each of the seniors were in elementary school. The group has built a special bond over the years, and Valley is just looking for those seniors to go out the right way. 

“It’s very special to us,” Harper said. “I’ve been rocking with these guys since third grade. It’s personal. I want to see them go out on top, and I want to go out on top also.” 

The Rams are known for their offense, and rightfully so as most of the starting lineup are double-digit scorers. However, the team’s ability to buy in on the defensive side has set Valley apart from most other teams in the state. 

“Last year, that’s how we won most of our games,” Thomas said. “Now, we’ve got a state championship. Defense wins championships like everybody says.” 

The Rams are set to advance to the semifinals in Birmingham to face Fairfield on Feb. 28. Tipoff is set for 5:30 ET.