Preview: Rams travel to Mobile to face St. Paul’s in the second round

Published 1:26 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

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The Valley Rams have been playing at the highest level down the stretch of the season, but Valley faces another test this week as the team travels to face St. Paul’s Episcopal on the round in the second round of the playoffs. 

The Rams have shown their grit throughout the postseason. In the area championship against Beauregard, Valley was down two runs going into the bottom of the seventh inning and won the game on a walk-off. 

The Rams were forced to pull off another epic rally in the first round against Elberta. Valley was down four runs in the bottom of the seventh and once again came away with a walk-off win. 

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“Just a lot of grit, no quit in these guys,” Valley coach Mike Meadows said. 

The Saints bring a potent lineup into the matchup against Valley. St.Paul’s has eight players that are batting well over .300 this season. The team also boasts a lot of power and speed in the lineup. 

John Stowers leads the way for the Saints with 13 home runs and a .416 batting average. Tate Johnston adds an element of contact and speed to St. Paul’s, posting a .358 batting average with 23 stolen bases. 

The Saints rely on their bats, but they have likely faced few rotations as physically imposing as Valley’s starting rotation. 

“I would like to think so. I’m a defensive-minded guy,” Meadows said about having the advantage with the rotation. “I feel like pitching is what is going to carry you. I feel like we have a little bit of an edge. We have a good staff, and it’s been good all year.” 

The Rams are led by Jackson Sanders, a lefty committed to Auburn, and C.J. Chambley. The pair of seniors along with Seth Hammock have been tough for any team to combat with this season. Sanders has dynamic stuff that leads to a high volume of strikeouts, while Chambley pitches to contact more and allows the defense to play behind them. 

“They come in and work and do what’s asked of them in practice to prepare. They execute the gameplan pretty well on gamedays,” Meadows said. “Just a good group of guys, and they do things the right way.” 

Valley is coming to the matchup against the Saints as winners of five straight. The rotation has been good all season, but the bats have started to come around for Valley. 

The Rams have averaged nearly nine runs per game over their last 10 games. Bryson Monteith, Sanders, Chambley and several others have stepped up to lead at the top of the lineup, but the entire lineup has improved at the plate. 

“Some of those guys are starting to come around a little bit and swing it a little bit better than they were,” Meadows said. 

Braylon Carter and Matthew Mcdonald have boasted the biggest improvements throughout the season. Meadows placed a designated hitter in Carter’s spot in the order for most of last season, but Carter has improved at the plate and become a regular hitter for the Rams. 

“He’s swung the bat probably as well as anybody outside of Jackson and C.J.,” Meadows said. “It’s just kind of been a combined effort amongst all those guys.” 

Valley will embark on the 247-mile trip to Mobile on Thursday and spend the night in Mobile before facing the Saints in a doubleheader on Friday. A game three would be played on Saturday if needed. 

Some coaches choose to take long trips in the playoffs on the day of the game, often out of necessity, but Meadows chose to take the trip a day early to have his team adequately prepared and fully focused on the task at hand. 

Valley won its second straight area championship this season but took things a step further by advancing past the first round of the playoffs. 

The coaching staff’s focus each season has just been to improve on the previous season’s result, but now the Rams have a chance to set new standards and reach new heights as a program. 

“I just want our guys to know that our expectation as coaches is to keep progressing every year,” Meadows said. “Let’s not settle for doing what last year’s team did. This is a different team and group of guys… Your goal is always going to be to try to play for a state championship. That’s what these guys said from the get-go.” 

Meadows has been endowed in Valley’s program as a player and coach, but few seasons have been as exciting as this one. The Rams are 22-4 and have put together a plethora of exciting performances and comebacks together. 

The support for Valley this season has also been on a different level. Finding a place to sit at Crestview this season has been nearly impossible, and the support from the community has helped the team to push even harder.