Valley’s dominant run comes to an emotional end

Published 8:48 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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Dominant runs and dynasties can sometimes feel like they will never end, but eventually, they all do. Valley saw its run come to an end on Wednesday as the Rams fell to Fairfield 56-50 in the 5A semifinals in Birmingham. 

It was a late run from the Tigers that spelled the end of the Rams. Down by seven with just over four minutes left in the game, the Tigers went on a 15-2 run to clinch a state title appearance.
Valley looked to be taking complete control of the game early in the fourth period, but it all seemed to fall apart for the Rams down the stretch. Valley scored just two points in over four minutes of action in the fourth period. Valley also turned the ball over five times in that timeframe. 

“Man, the wheels fell off, I don’t know,” Valley coach Marshon Harper said. “We did some stuff we don’t usually do. We turned the ball over. Pressure got to us a little bit. When adversity hits, sometimes it just snowballs down. Hats off to Fairfield. They did a great job. I’m proud of my guys.” 

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Valley’s offense struggled throughout the matchup as the Rams shot just 30% from the field and 22.7% from behind the arc. The shooting struggles paired with 17 turnovers for Valley made it tough for the Rams to ever fully take control of the game. 

The loss on Wednesday brings an end to one of the best runs in the history of Chambers County and 5A basketball. In two seasons, Valley won 56 of its 58 games and won the 5A state championship last season with a 33-0 record. 

Valley’s starting lineup of Cam Dooley, Jay Harper, Brandon Thomas, Ian Crim-Davis and Jayden Thomas will all graduate this year. 

Dooley and Harper are both set to play college football at Kentucky and Wisconsin, respectively. Thomas is uncommitted, but he has offers to play football and basketball at the next level. Crim-Davis is committed to playing football at Morehouse. 

The bond that coach Harper has made with this group is unbreakable. The group of seniors has been with Harper from the beginning of their journey as basketball players. 

“When the parents brought them to me in the fourth grade, I promised them they were going to be college ball players,” an emotional Harper said after the game. “That’s why I coach. Pour into these young kids and give them a life after sports… Five seniors right there, unbelievable run. That’s what I do it for. We’ve been pouring into these kids for a long time, and the work has paid off. I treat them just like my sons.” 

Dooley led the Rams on Wednesday as he finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Brandon added 10 points and eight rebounds, and Crim-Davis finished with eight points. 

The group of seniors have put together a lasting legacy at Valley High School, but more importantly, the seniors found a family with their coach and their fellow Rams. 

“It’s been a good run,” Thomas said. “We’ve been with him since fourth grade. This is my daddy. He’s been raising me for the longest. He just takes care of me. I’m sorry coach, I couldn’t get you another one. I love you.” 

“Coach Harper is like another father like Brandon said,” Dooley said.

 “One of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had,” Crim-Davis said. “Just appreciative to get to play for him. He taught me a lot, and at least we got that one ring.” 

Once Fairfield got the lead late in the fourth period, the Tigers were able to take a chunk of time off the clock with each possession. Some missed foul shots from Fairfield kept Valley in it, but the Rams ran out of time and opportunities. 

“Just trying to foul and get the ball back,” Harper said. “I think we ran out of timeouts. They missed a couple of free throws, but we couldn’t capitalize on the offensive side.” 

The Rams will be left with a lot of uncertainty heading into next season as the entire starting lineup graduates. The only non-seniors to score on Wednesday were Jayden Weaver and Antwan Greenwood. Greenwood finished with three points and Weaver finished with five. 

Over the next few months, Harper is also set to ask some tough questions about his future. 

“Kept going night in and night out and winning games,” Harper said. “This is 25 years for me, I don’t know. I got to think about it. I don’t know.” 

Valley finishes the season with a 23-2 record, and the Rams will still have a lot to hang their hats on as several dominant careers come to a close.