MISSION — And then there was one.
The last team standing in the Rio Grande Valley, the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks, departed Wednesday on their journey to Round Rock for the UIL Class 5A state baseball tournament, and with them goes a region on their back.
“Valley Boys” is a term proudly used by athletes across the RGV in a multitude of sports from high school to the college level with UTRGV.
From a region believed to be disrespected in high school athletics — even labeled as “Valley Week,” referring to the week when most RGV teams bow out of the postseason in nearly every sport — the Diamondbacks believe they are built different.
“To me, that’s a mental thing and that’s a mental hurdle,” Pioneer coach Casey Smith said. “It’s a limitation that a lot of people put on us here in the Valley, and to me, it’s a false limitation. I’ve seen that in competition with other teams and when we’ve played teams from outside the Valley. I’ve seen that our kids can compete. I’ve seen that consistently for years, now. It’s just trying to get everybody to believe that or buy into that is a little bit difficult.”
They’ve gone head-to-head with the No. 2 team in 5A twice already this postseason, according to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, and walked away winners on both occasions.
“Every week people don’t expect us to do as good as we do,” senior shortstop Jacob Rosales said. “Playing against Boerne-Champion, one of the players told us we just surprised them because they look at us and they just see a team from the Valley and think it’s going to be a cakewalk. That’s what helped us in Round 2 and the fourth round. It’s just something we thrive for and something we live for — people overlooking us — so we just prove them wrong every week. It’s what’s encouraged us all year.”
Now, the Diamondbacks are prepared to face the No. 1 team in 5A, the Georgetown Eagles, in a do-or-die game in the state semifinals today. It’s just another nameless, faceless opponent, as Smith tells his group.
“It doesn’t phase us. They’re just another top-ranked team, but a rank is just a number,” freshman second baseman Juan Rivera said. “We just need to go out there and show them what Valley Boys do and keep grinding to reach our goal of winning a state championship.”
The Diamondbacks are one game away from playing for that state championship. They’ve been the underdog, they’ve defeated Goliaths, and now, they hope to bring home a state title.
“We’re going to take it like any other game. We’re not afraid to lose. We’re just going to come out and play hard to the best of our ability. We’re just one of those Cinderella stories. We’ve been doubted the whole season, we’ve been proving everybody wrong. Hopefully we can come out and play hard and prove someone wrong again,” junior catcher Angel Nuñez said.
Smith, who has helped guide the Diamondbacks where no RGV baseball team has gone since 2007, said Sharyland Pioneer is going to continue to represent the Valley at high school baseball’s highest level.
“It’s unbelievable for us to be carrying this torch right now, not only for us and our community, but also for the Rio Grande Valley,” Smith said. “We couldn’t be more excited and fired up to get up there and compete and continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
The Diamondbacks will face Georgetown (40-4-1) in the semifinals of the 5A state tournament at 7 tonight at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. The winner between Pioneer and Georgetown will advance to the state championship game to face the winner between Colleyville Heritage and Corsicana at noon on Saturday at Dell Diamond.