Valley baseball team believes ‘surreal’ run can continue
Sunday, May 20, 2018 | 10:54 PM
Jim Basilone's baseball life extends far enough back that he can recall the last time Valley won a postseason game.
His players? Not even close.
The No. 5 Vikings tasted playoff glory nearly five decades in the making with a 7-5 WPIAL Class 3A first-round win over Beaver Falls — their first postseason win since June 1, 1970. That win came in the first year of Valley High School, against a school — Ford City — that no longer exists, when Basilone was an up-and-coming player at Springdale. But no longer does it stand as the last time Valley won in the playoffs.
“It's kind of like we got the monkey off our back,” Basilone said.
More like a 350-pound gorilla.
Now, a program that ended a nine-year playoff drought in 2017 and followed that with last week's win is aiming for even greater heights, starting with Monday's Class 3A quarterfinal against No. 4 Brownsville.
“It's just surreal,” said senior Jake McNabb, a four-year starter at catcher. “It's finally showing all the hard work we put in through the offseason and practices. It's finally starting to pay off, and all the guys are really happy for each other and happy for the team. It's just a great feeling.”
It came in what might have been a rebuilding season, given Valley (11-6) relies on three freshman starters complementing its five seniors. But despite the age disparity, the Vikings tied Burrell for the Section 1-3A championship, their first title since 2004. And the team has shown the ability to come together in big moments, including rallying from an early two-run deficit against Beaver Falls.
“What I tried to do, and I think I was very successful at it, was to get these kids to believe they can win, to believe it didn't matter what combination we had on the field, that they were able to achieve and work together and achieve that winning goal,” said Basilone, in his second season at Valley after a long career as an assistant at North Allegheny. “I think I brought in a mental toughness that maybe they didn't experience before.”
Basilone credited the team's upperclassmen — seniors Dan Antonacci, Shawn Demharter, Nick Heuser, McNabb and Andrew Serakowski and junior Eli Ferres — for taking freshman starters John Luke Bailey, Shane Demharter and Cayden Quinn under their collective wing.
A season-opening trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., also helped. In addition to getting in four games and several practices with a new team, the trip allowed a valuable bonding experience. A 10-hour bus ride, frequent meals together — including one to a favored buffet spot, Magnolia's on 26th — and beach excursions did their part.
“Just out on the beach with them, it was really fun, and it brought us together,” Shawn Demharter said. “Nobody was on their phones. Everybody was talking. We were laughing, having fun. It's something I'll never forget.”
In Valley's final game at Myrtle Beach, Basilone put mostly freshmen in the lineup, and the Vikings rallied for a victory.
They faced a similar situation against Beaver Falls. Freshman pitcher Quinn allowed two early runs, and the Vikings went the first three innings without a baserunner. But then the tables turned in the fourth as the team batted around and scored six runs, despite having just four players with postseason experience.
“We knew the playoff atmosphere from playing in the game, but at the same time we were still excited and looking forward to playing in that atmosphere, in that up-tempo style of playoff game,” McNabb said. “Those are games where you get butterflies, and you just take that and run with it.”
Next up is a playoff rematch. Brownsville beat Valley, 8-0, in the first round last season, with Antonacci and Heuser sidelined with injuries.
McNabb believes a fully healthy and battle-tested team can put up a better fight and potentially get “redemption.”
“It's something special that we're the first team to get a playoff win for Valley in (48) years,” Demharter said. “It's something I'll never forget. Hopefully we can go further and win the WPIAL.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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