Valley View continuing its diamond excellence in 2023
BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
For last several years, the Valley View baseball program has been synonymous with excellence and this season is no different.
The Blazers won the Class 4A State state title in 2021, finished as the runner-up to Harrison last season and have gone 63-2 in their last 65 conference games under head coach Josh Allison.
Valley View (12-3, 6-0), which features three SEC commitments and has moved up to Class 5A this season, stayed unbeaten in league play Tuesday when it swept a doubleheader from Batesville 6-4 and 9-1.
“It’s been good, our expectations were for it to be more a reload thing and we expect to be back there in the end and make a run at it,” Allison said. “It is all about the process of trying to peak at the end.”
Valley View, which went 29-6 in 2021 and 29-7 in 2022, boasts Ole Miss junior commit Slade Caldwell and a pair of Razorback pledges in junior catcher Lawson Ward (6-1, 185) and sophomore Keaton Mathis.
All three have been of a deep pitching staff that shined in a doubleheader sweep last Thursday over Pulaski Academy and Harding Academy in which the Blazers threw a no-hitter in one game and a two-hitter in the other.
“I thought we would be pretty good on the mound, but we have probably exceeded my expectations a little bit so far on the mound against some of the teams we have played,” Allison said. “We are fielding it well, have played some clean baseball.
“We have had a good couple of weeks here now, but by no means is this the pinnacle of where we want to be. We have to keep getting better and enjoying the process of the season.”
Allison made a calculated decision to beef up his team’s non-conference schedule with Bryant, Little Rock Catholic, Martin and Cleveland (Miss.) Magnolia Heights among the foes.
“We bolstered our scheduled to try and make it harder,” Allison said. “I knew wins were going to be a lot tougher to get wins, but I wanted to challenge our guys with some adversity.”
“It’s been a process and we’ve been trying to get our young guys experience,” Allison said. “We are starting three freshmen and just kind of throwing them into the fire while playing Bryant and Mag Heights, Catholic and Marion.
“You look at the schedule and there are a lot of teams on there and you think ‘man, if we don’t come ready to play, they would wore us out.’”
Caldwell has been a key figure in Valley View’s last two post season runs.
“He’s the engine our our train,” Allison said. “He is a special kid and I don’t think you will find a more humble guy than Slade. All the accolades he gets is impressive, but you would be hard pressed to find anybody that works harder and is more down to earth.
“He doesn’t want to talk about himself or what he does, but he is one of the leader for our team. He’s just really good at baseball and I m glad he is on our team.”
Ward is a catcher with a big arm.
“Man, he is really good,” Allison said of Ward. “His baseball IQ is like Slade’s - it is off the charts. The way he handles our pitching staff, he makes our pitchers better, the way he receives and blocks and throws the baseball, is exceptional. He is two flat (seconds) to the bag regularly in games.
“It is hard to run on us and he is a weapon. There are a lot of good catchers and we play some of them, bu the way Lawson receives and leads our pitching staff is a big deal for us.
“He also closes and hits third for us.”
Mathis is a the youngest of those committed.
“Keaton is a bigger freshman and it is one of those things that he has got all the talent, but he now is playing kids four years older than him,” Allison said. “So there is a little bit of a learning curve there.
“He is one of those guys that is just built a little different…He also hits in the middle of our order and it is just a matter of time before we are talking about him as one of the better offensive players in the area.”
With the success and name players, Allison has stressed to his squad that it must be ready for each game or it will be watching the opposing team celebrated.
“I feel like we get everybody’s best shot,” Allison said. “If they schedule it, their best pitcher is going to be throwing against us when our’s might not be. That’s big and we want to see that – everybody’s best shot – to get us ready for the postseason.
“I have to keep reminding our guys that it’s also a good feeling when you see people – I mean we have most three games this year in-state and we have gone years where we have lost one game in the state of Arkansas.
“But with a harder schedule with top level teams in the top division, if you don’t play well, you are going to get beat – it almost makes you feel good when teams celebrate so much that they beat you because it is a big deal.”
Allison knows that the success past has brought about the pressure of the present.
“I have to tell our guys that where our program is now because of the guys that came before you and what we have been able to accomplish – beating Valley View is a big deal and you have a target on your back and you get that target when you put on a Valley View jersey.”
Allison expects his player to follow guidelines and rules set out for all.
“Culture is thrown out a lot and there is a lot of talk about our culture and standards we have set and are expected,” Allison said. “The kids come in and are green, but learn quick how things are supposed to be done and how we go about doing things.
“I think that is one of the reasons that we are successful year after year because these things are in place and we move on with other guys keep it up to the standard.”