by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic outfielder Sam Teague is part of a loaded senior class that is bent on bringing a state championship home on June 1.

For all of its 3A athletic dominance in the past decade, the only championship banner missing high on Valley Catholic’s gym wall other than football is baseball.

The talented 2007 team that started the season 27-0 was upset in the second round of the playoffs. The overachieving 2010 bunch that had Carter Buuck and Liam Walsh’s older brothers on the squad reached the state title game, only to get seared by Santiam Christian.

The Valiants say 2014 is Valley’s year. And, being the last season Valley will ever compete at the 3A level, it has to be.

Topped with talent up and down the roster and, a wealth of fueled inspiration incited by past years’ of dissatisfaction, there’s good reason to believe Valley’s aspiration is more than a pipe dream.

“It’s a state-championship-or -bust season,” said Buuck. “The biggest thing we have is motivation. We’ve seen those two teams (2007 and 2010) go down up close. We feel we have the best of both those teams. We have the talent and the natural work ethic. We want to stay sharp the whole season to reach a state championship because that’s our goal.”

“I really think we’re the team to beat,” said senior outfielder Sam Teague. “With how hard we work and the athleticism and drive that every single one of these guys has, I think it’s going to be tough to compete with us this year.”

When Buuck went down with an ACL injury in early December just two games into his return to the Valiants’ boys’ basketball team, the fear was Valley’s baseball championship season would also go up in smoke. But, Buuck stunningly returned to the floor in February in time to help the Valiants’ stretch run into the playoffs and eventually the state title. And, with the help of head coach Pat Thomas, the left-handed ace was able to get comfortable throwing the baseball during the winter. A somewhat encumbering knee brace aside, Buuck proved he’s ready to take Valley to the promised land, fanning 14 of the 15 batters he faced against Dayton.

In a way, Buuck’s reemergence as the Valiants’ workhorse is an added, unexpected boost to a team that regardless would’ve been in the hunt for a state title.

Now, with experienced talents like Teague, Walsh Liam Meagher, David Baglai, Clay Kemper and Alex Hyland filling in around Buuck, there’s no telling how good Valley can be this spring.

“The seniors on this team have been waiting for this moment for four years, just to have this good of a team,” said Walsh. “Our senior class has wanted to win a state championship. We think this year we have the best chance.”

“I feel like this team is so well-rounded,” added Buuck. “Whether it’s hitting with Sam Teague and Liam Meagher, fielding with Alex Hyland at shortstop and Clay Kemper at second base. We can run the bases well. I think we can do a lot of things.”

Nobody has seen Teague throw yet because the Samford University commit just began pitching during the summer season. However, the southpaw can touch the low 80 miles per hour range, and he’s developed a cutter that could be nasty coming of the left side of the mound. Juniors Jacob Vincent and Baglai along with Hyland make up a deep and skilled rotation that can effectively back Buuck.

“There are going to be doubleheaders, rainouts, back-to-backs where we need that whole entire staff to come through for us,” said Buuck. “I feel like everyone’s talented enough and mentally strong enough to get a win no matter the situation.”

Polishing teams off early, when the lead is in its grasp, and piling up enough runs for Buuck, Teague and company on the hill sit atop Valley’s seasonal check list of objectives. Both issues hurt the Valiants last year when Pleasant Hill traveled to Beaverton and put a 6-0 defeat on Valley’s heads in the 3A quarterfinals.

“We just have to keep the momentum,” said Walsh. “Last year we’d start off fine and play some great games. But, then we’d get into slumps and weren’t able to get out. We wouldn’t worry about small games. We lost to a couple of teams that we should have beaten and we know that. We have to worry about each game, each team.”

A renewed commitment to running the bases hard, and making consistent contact at the dish will hopefully remedy both issues for a Valiant team that already appears to be in midseason form. Other than Buuck, most of the baseball players didn’t play basketball, so preseason practices have been razor sharp and concentrated on one common goal.

“We want to be in the state championship, so our mindset is we can’t take one practice off,” said Teague. “We have to be super focused. We can’t take one pitch, one at-bat, anything off, especially in practice.”

“We have power and contact throughout the entire lineup,” said Buuck. “But, it’s baseball. There are going to be some games where you can’t bring the bats. So, that’s why I’m really happy with our pitching staff and with our defense. No matter what you always have to have those. All we need is one run, and I think we’ll be able to do that with this offense.”

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