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"Valley Thrills:" Eagles celebrate dramatic return to state tournament

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jun 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-05 19:16:40-04

WACO, Texas — Not long before the clock struck midnight Friday night, the Valley Mills Eagles continued their magical postseason run when Kaleb Kuligowski scored Elandis Taylor from third base to complete their walk-off win over Bosqueville. The win earned the Eagles their second trip to state in four years.

"We knew this was gonna happen," Kuligowski said after the game.

The Eagles surprised several in the high school baseball community by upsetting Bosqueville in the first game of the series. The Bulldogs swept Valley Mills in the pair's two regular season meetings.

"We played them twice in district, but it was close," Valley Mills Head Coach Doug Shanafelt said. "We made some mistakes. And we were talking when it happened. [We said], 'That's okay, because we know we're going to second place and we're gonna meet back with them."

"Our kids got off that bus believing they knew they were gonna win," he said.

Entering Game Two, Shanafelt considered saving his other main starter, Thomas Perez, for a decisive Game Three. He put the decision up to his players.

"Coach said we should hold our best guy until the third game," Kuligowski said. "But we wanted to attack and put our foot on their throat."

The decision paid off.

After allowing four first inning runs, Perez settled in, holding Bosqueville scoreless as the Eagles chipped away.

By the fifth inning, the game was tied at four. Umpires then called a delay because of a lightning strike near Baylor Ballpark.

After more than an hour the game resumed and went into extra innings. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Valley Mills loaded the bases with no outs. Kuligowski came up to the plate.

"I told him, 'Who are ya?" Shanafelt said. "And he knows who he is, and I know who he is, and he told us who he is by getting that ball in play."

Kuligowski hit a slow chopper down the third base line. Elandis Taylor took off from third on contact. The throw pulled Bosqueville's catcher off the bag, allowing Taylor to slide in safely.

"I mean, I thought it was gonna be a bang, bang play no matter what," Taylor said. "And I slid into home. So I saw his feet rise up and I just I just knew it. I had a gut feeling."

Shanafelt had a gut feeling, too.

Before Taylor even slid into home, the ecstatic coach was half-way down the third base line, waving his arms in the air. He was the first person to reach Taylor at the plate and immediately tackled him to the ground in celebration.

"I knew he was going to be safe. I knew it no question at all. That's why I was running right beside him," Shanafelt said.

Kuligowski knew Taylor would score as he ran toward first. While Shanafelt started a dogpile near home plate, the rest of the team ran after Kuligowski and started a second dogpile behind the mound.

"I didn't want to be the one on the bottom because I couldn't breathe for about 10 seconds," Kuligowski said.

The at-bat was a moment he says he started dreaming of when he saw his teammates celebrate a similar feat during his Freshman season in 2019.

"I've envisioned that probably 100,000 times. It wasn't the best hit, but it got the job done. And I'm just glad that it happened," he said.

The Eagles now turn their attention toward the state tournament at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. Shanafelt says it's the culmination of years of hard work.

"It means pretty much everything," he said after the game. "We had kids... men now... come back this year and throw out the opening pitch and talk to those kids about what it was like in their run. Now these guys are going to be able to come back and do the same thing to other kids. It's important and its their legacy for years and years."

Valley Mills opens the state tournament Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. The Eagles play New Home, with the winner advancing to the Conference 2A championship game Thursday.