Athlete of the Week: Sanders continues to dominate for Valley

Published 11:16 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

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The Valley Rams have been one of the hottest baseball teams in the state this season. The Rams currently sit at 14-2 on the season. A large part of Valley’s success has come from its pitching rotation led by dynamic lefty Jackson Sanders. 

Sanders is currently ranked as the no. 5 baseball prospect in the state of Alabama and the no. 1 left-handed pitcher in the state. Sanders signed to play with Auburn before the season. Even with all the hype surrounding his senior season, Sanders has somehow managed to hit another level. 

Sanders has led Valley’s pitching staff this season with a 3-0 record, 47 strikeouts and a 0.78 earned run average. At the plate, Sanders holds a .565 batting average and leads the team in home runs. 

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“Beeing a senior, I’m really trying to put on that leadership role, especially this year having a younger team,” Sanders said. “Just trying to … step up and lead by example. Not just talking to the guys, playing through them and make sure I set a good example for them.” 

With a 6-foot-3 frame and a fastball in the mid-90s, the attention has been coming Sanders’ way for several years. There has been even more attention this season. 

Scouts, opposing fans and several others in attendance show up to watch Sanders play. Many spectators this season have brought their own radar gun to sit by the plate and clock Sanders’ fastball. 

All the attention could be a distraction, and some players wilt under that level of pressure. Sanders has been able to embrace and ignore all the noise and continue playing the game he loves at a high level. 

“At the end of the day, it’s a baseball game,” Sanders said. “I try not to make it anything more than it is and go out there and be myself. I don’t really try to change for people. [I] just go out there and try to play the way I’ve played my whole life. I really don’t try to become somebody I’m not because that’s when stuff starts getting bad.” 

Sanders’ composure on the mound has grown as he’s matured as a player and person. Bloop hits and rough innings are few and far between for Sanders, but even those moments have not been able to shake his confidence. 

“It’s hard when stuff doesn’t go your way, but that’s kind of a maturity thing I’ve developed over the years,” Sanders said. “I’ve realized that blowing up, getting mad and taking stuff out on people, doesn’t help anything. It’s more of take a deep breath and roll over. Next pitch, next play, next game. You’ve got to worry about the next thing in front of you, can’t dwell on the past.” 

The pitching rotation for Valley has led the way this season, and the Rams are starting to have their sights set on higher goals. 

Jackson and the rest of the senior class would love nothing more than to add a baseball championship to their resume, but the team is working to focus on the task at hand. 

“For the team, it was obviously make the playoffs first, have a good season, get a winning record and ultimately try to win a ring,” Sanders said about his goals for the season. “We’ve got to worry about the next game first because we play tomorrow. We’re really not trying to look at the ring and all that, just worrying about what we have in front of us.” 

Sanders’ resume as an athlete stacks up against many others who have come through Valley High School, and he is undoubtedly one of the best baseball players to wear a Ram uniform. 

Sanders is not content with being remembered just for his abilities on the field, he wants people to remember the person he was every day. 

“I just want to be remembered for my effort and attitude every day. The same person with a smile on my face, giving it all I can give,” Sanders said. “I don’t want to be remembered as a guy that just cared about baseball and only focused on that. I want to be remembered in the classroom… Just being an all-around person.” 

Sanders’ abilities as a pitcher are known by every team that Valley faces, but his hitting has given the Rams a major lift. Sanders has had a dynamic season at the plate despite not getting to work much on that side of his game. 

“I’ve taken maybe only a few [sessions] of batting practice,” Sanders said. “It’s crazy to think about, but I rarely take BP. My time is mainly consumed by pitching right now. In games where I’m hitting, I’m just letting my ability, what I’ve had over the years, and just being loose with it and not pressing. Just going up there, swinging it and letting the work in the past years take over.” 

Sanders is currently not expecting to swing a bat at Auburn. Transitioning to being a pitcher only is going to be a new concept for Sanders. 

“That’s something to think about for sure. It’s definitely fun,” Sanders said. “It’s frustrating too, especially those nights where you go 0-for-4 or 1-for-3 and you hit everything on the barrel but they get outs. It’s definitely a fun thing to do. There’s nothing like hitting a bomb or hitting a game-winning hit…” 

Sanders along with Bryson Monteith, CJ Chambley and Clayton Sanders make up the only seniors this season for Valley. The four have had to step up as leaders, and their bond has grown in the process.

Monteith transferred to Valley before the school year, but Chambley, Jackson and Clayton have been with the program for several years. Monteith has been an immediate fit for the Rams and all four of the seniors have stepped up this season. 

“It’s a close bond,” Sanders said. “We play through each other, even on bad days. We always have each other’s backs. That’s one of the reasons we’ve been so good this year is because the chemistry has been there all year.” 

Valley’s entire team is relatively young this season. Chambley and Jackson lead the starting rotation as seniors. The pair have helped to mentor the younger guys as well as help each other in the process. 

“I just try to help them with how they’re attacking hitters,” Sanders said. “A lot of them are good mechanically.

“It’s more of the mental side of baseball that took me a while to learn. I think that’s the biggest part of baseball, the mental part.”