Ben Murphy
Contributing Writer

(Photo Provided)

It was fun. It was magical. It was flat-out impressive. You can throw just about any positive adjective you want at the Maple Valley baseball team’s season. The Lions won the Big 8 Conference, claimed district and regional titles on their way to a state semi-finals appearance at Michigan State University on June 14.

“It was a phenomenal run,” head coach Bryan Carpenter said. “A heck of a group of kids and that made it special for me, the quality of kids we got to coach every day. We didn’t have a lot of drama or negative energy; it was just positive across the board and to see them get rewarded for it was awesome for me.”

The Lions finished with a 29-8 overall record and 11-1 in league play for their first league title since 2013. They also won their first district title since 2015 and had their first regional championship and final four appearance since 1975.

Eventual state champion Beal City did put an end to their run in the semi-finals with a 5-1 loss, but that didn’t take any luster on what a special moment it was.

“It was an awesome experience, the crowd that our community brought was second to none,” Carpenter, who finished his 23rd year with the team said of playing at the final four. “It was loud, it was full. The kids that have been in the program put in a lot of work and they deserved that opportunity. It was awesome to see them achieve the goal that they set at the beginning of the season, to make it to Michigan State. Beal City is an established program, we knew they were a solid team and that we had to play them at some point to get to our ultimate goal, which was to win the whole thing. I feel like we gave them the best game they had from the regional on, but they have to have a really bad day for them to lose a big game like that.”

Their path to the state semi-finals certainly wasn’t an easy one. After getting 15-0 and 8-4 wins in the district over Athens and Mendon, they had to win a pair of one run games to win the regional. They edged Concord 3-2 and narrowly defeated Adrian Lenawee Christian 5-4. Their quarterfinal was another close one, a 4-2 win over Kalamazoo Hackett.

“I just think they just had a belief in each other and a belief that they would win against anybody that was on the other side,” Carpenter said. “For us, it was never about one kid. Through our run different kids stepped up, different kids had hits and made plays. I think it was huge for us and everyone believed in each other, and everyone believed they could do it.

“We knew coming into the new conference we could be competitive this year, it was just a matter of doing it in the 12 league games,” he added. “We knew we were the best team in our district, it was just a matter of making it happen on the right day. In regionals, Concord was the team we split with in league play, so beating them was a little redemption for us. The trip to Cornerstone University for the regional finals and quarterfinals (was great). The moment was never too big for our kids, they just soaked it in and embraced it and did what they did all year.”

The Lions do graduate six seniors from the team; many of which played an important role; Ayden Wilkes, Callea Hoefler, Camden Carpenter, Andrew Shepard, Connor Joseph and Isaac Haas.

“They have done amazing things for our program,” Carpenter said. “We are going to have some big holes to fill, we are losing some quality kids from our senior class. My hope is that these younger kids saw the success that we had this year and we raised the standard a bit on what we are capable of and get that drive to get back to this level and maintain this level. I know that the three seniors we will have next year are already talking about it.”