Valley 10U makes Valley a city of champions once again

Published 12:29 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

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Valley is once again a city of champions. Valley’s 10 and under All-Star team made sure of that as the Rams traveled to Headland to face off in the Diamond Youth Baseball state tournament and returned home as champions. 

The 10U team has been something special. Most of the group has been on the same team since they began playing baseball. The team won the district championship last year as a team filled with mostly nine-year-olds. The Rams went one step further this year as they beat Hartford 7-6 to win the state title. 

“It was a pretty special moment,” Valley coach Justin Whitehead said. “This is their fourth year going to state. We kind of thought this was a possibility, and we felt good. It never really hits you until you’ve done it and won it. It was special. It was emotional.” 

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Valley came home as champions, but it was far from an easy run to the title. The 10U team had their backs against the wall for most of the weekend. 

After a 4-5 loss on Friday to Fayette County, the Rams were one loss away from seeing their trip to Headland come to an end. Valley bounced back later on Friday with a 20-3 win over Beauregard. Then, the Rams advanced on Saturday with a 12-2 win over Ashford and a 19-1 win over Wicksburg. 

Valley then had to face Fayette County again. It was a completely different result this time as the Rams won 8-0. The team once again faced adversity in the championship as they came into the bottom half-inning down 6-5. 

Reason Lacy came up to bat with one out in the inning and hit a pop-up. An error by Hartford’s second baseman allowed Easton Allen and Mason Landrum to score and win the championship on a walk-off. 

“They just kept showing up,” Whitehead said. “I said, ‘They’ve got to get us out 18 times. If we’ve got one out, then we’ve got a chance.’ They just kept fighting until the end, and it really showed in that last game.” 

Ingram Smith was one of the biggest standouts throughout the tournament. He led the way with three hits in the championship and finished with 10 RBIs in the final five games of the tournament. 

“He’s just been consistent,” Whitehead said. “It felt like anytime we needed something, he was there to get a big hit. He had a bunch of RBIs, which means the people in front of him were getting on base. They were doing their jobs and he was doing his.” 

Several kids made a name for themselves during the state tournament. Benton Earl had one of the better performances of the tournament in the rematch against Fayette County. 

Earl pitched 5 ⅔ innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out eight batters and giving up no runs. 

“We don’t even make it against Fayette if Benton Earl doesn’t come out and throw an absolute gem,” Whitehead said. “With a pitch limit, you’ve got to be really efficient to get that deep into a game. It was one of the best games I’ve seen a kid this age pitch.” 

The city of Valley once again showed up in droves to support the kids. The 12U team was also in the tournament and finished second. Both teams had waves of fans supporting them throughout the run. 

“We had all of our family and friends show up early in the tournament just because of the timing it was,” Whitehead said. “When we got to Sunday, it felt like the whole city of Valley was there. Our 12U was playing as well. We were both playing on Sunday. There was a lot of support from both sides. The 12U and 10U parents were cheering for each other. We had people who didn’t have a kid, grandkid, or relative, they came to support us. The support from this city for kids trying to accomplish something is really astounding.” 

Winning the state championship makes Valley’s 10U team eligible to compete in the Little League World Series. Whitehead and the other coaches have looked to parents of the last Valley team that went to the World Series for advice through the process. 

The Rams did banner sponsorships and each kid fundraised to raise money for the state tournament. The 10U team will have to raise more money for the World Series, and Whitehead is already thinking of several ways to help out the families. 

Valley will be fully focused on putting together a strong showing at the World Series. At any rate, the kids are building some lifelong memories and bonds this summer. 

“I hope they can remember it. I hope they’ve formed a bond with their teammates that they can look back on and never forget,” Whitehead said. “There’s one team in each age group from the state of Alabama in Diamond Youth that gets to go each year. A small amount of people get to experience this. I just hope that they can soak it in, have fun and really remember it.”