MARION — Valley View will finish the 2023 baseball season by playing for a state championship, just as it did the last two years.
The Blazers outlasted two No. 2 seeds over the weekend to reach the Class 5A state baseball tournament final. Valley View eked out a 1-0 victory over Benton in Saturday’s quarterfinals, then eliminated Maumelle 6-2 in Sunday’s semifinals.
Coach Josh Allison’s Blazers will take the field during the Weekend of Champions for the third season in a row, this time in a higher classification after going to the Class 4A title game the past two years. Valley View defeated Magnolia in the 2021 state final and lost to Harrison in 10 innings in last year’s title game.
“It’s a grind every year and it doesn’t matter how good you are,” Allison said after Sunday’s victory. “We had a tough one, a 1-0 game (Saturday), and to battle through that and come back today and have to start a freshman on the mound and have him throw like he did was impressive. It’s so hard to get there. I’m proud of the guys for making it three in a row.”
Valley View (29-4) and Little Rock Christian (30-3) will meet in the championship game Saturday night in Conway at the University of Central Arkansas’ Bear Stadium. Starting time for the 5A championship game, which will be televised by Arkansas PBS, is 7 p.m.
Freshman pitcher Keaton Mathis retired the first 12 batters he faced Sunday against Maumelle. Mathis allowed one run and one hit in 4 2/3 innings while striking out three batters and walking two.
“He’s done it against (Little Rock) Christian, Rogers. We had full confidence in him to come out and do exactly what he did,” Allison said. “He got in a little bit of trouble and we had plenty of arms to go to, so we moved, but it was a great start, exactly what we needed.”
Lawson Ward recorded the final out of the fifth, escaping a bases-loaded jam on a line drive to left fielder Jayde Taylor, and worked a scoreless sixth. Slade Caldwell relieved Ward with two runners on base in the seventh and recorded the last three outs on eight pitches.
Valley View pushed a run across in each of the first three innings, then tacked on three in the sixth. Drew Gartman led off the first inning with a walk, stole second base and scored on Caldwell’s RBI single.
Tyler Hoskins walked, stole second and scored on Noah Ragsdale’s single in the second inning. Gartman doubled in the third and scored on Owen Roach’s RBI single.
The Blazers’ lead could have been larger except for a couple of fly ball double plays with runners on the move in the first two innings. They also had a runner tagged out to end the third.
“We kind of ran ourselves out of a couple of innings, just not knowing where the outfielders were and swinging when we were stealing. We work on swinging when we’re stealing and not stealing when we’re swinging, just some things we can clean up,” Allison said. “We could have busted it open there, I thought, because they had no answer for the running game, but we found a way to win. It’s tough to win a semifinal game.”
Maumelle (19-11) didn’t have a baserunner until its first two batters in the fifth walked on full-count pitches. Jameson Burton’s one-out RBI single, the Hornets’ first hit, cut the Blazers’ lead to 3-1.
The Hornets loaded the bases when the Blazers committed an error on a fielder’s choice ground ball. Mathis recorded the second out on a foul fly ball before yielding to Ward on the mound.
“He (Ward) is usually our closer, but they had some righties coming up and we had Slade in our back pocket,” Allison said. “With the righties in the top of the order coming up, we thought it was a good matchup for him to come up a little early and we had Slade there at the end to close it out.”
Taylor snared a line drive for the third out and made another nice defensive play in the sixth, a sliding grab of a foul fly ball after a long run.
Valley View made its lead more comfortable with three runs in the bottom of the sixth. Caldwell drew a leadoff walk, stole second and third, then scored on Roach’s double to center field.
Hoskins belted an RBI double off the center fielder’s glove and the Blazers scored another run off a throwing error to lead 6-1. Burton, who had both of Maumelle’s hits, hit a double in the seventh as the Hornets scored once to set the final score.
Roach was 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs to lead Valley View offensively. The Blazers had seven hits and six stolen bases as a team.
Hoskins pitched a complete-game shutout Saturday against Benton (18-9), striking out nine while allowing only three hits.
Caldwell, playing center field, threw out a Benton runner at home plate to end the top of the sixth inning. He hit a triple in the bottom of the sixth and scored on Ward’s single, giving Valley View the game’s only run.
“That throw to home plate probably turned that into a run the next inning, a big play on defense and he comes up and hits the big triple,” Allison said of Caldwell. “That stuff probably correlates to itself. It’s probably a season-saving play.”
Little Rock Christian defeated Texarkana 12-4 in the semifinals Sunday. The Warriors edged Hot Springs Lakeside 3-2 in the first round and Greene County Tech 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
Valley View defeated Little Rock Christian 4-1 in Jonesboro on April 14.
“You’re going to be nervous because it’s the state finals, but we’ve been there three years in a row and we’ve got guys who have started three years in a row in the finals,” Allison said. “Hopefully we can go down with our A game, if we’re going to go down, and if we win it, we win it with our A game.”