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by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic post Gabe Taylor throws down a two-handed jam in the third quarter of the Valiants' win over Clatskanie on Friday.

There’s almost an invisible lever on the Valley Catholic boys’ basketball team’s energy level that, when turned on, thrusts the Valiants into a high gear few 3A teams can reproduce.

The undetectable dial isn’t necessarily something Valley wants to lean on, or put faith in going forward. If Valley happens to start a state semifinal game against De La Salle North Catholic flat-footed, for example, go to the switch, and it’s not there to flip, the Valiants could be in big trouble.

However, for the present, Valley can simply come to life when the time arises and bury teams with its across-the-board charisma and penchant to fulminate at a moment’s notice.

Against Clatskanie on Friday, the Valiants scrammed away from their Lewis and Clark foe with a dominating second half, turning a 30-26 halftime lead into a 48-31 thirdquarter lead and eventually a 57-41 victory.

“Once we flick the switch, we’re golden,” said senior post Gabe Taylor. “We have to do that from the start, though. We can’t really wait and see what they’re going to throw at us before, we go and start playing hard.”

“We can go to it,” added senior wing JD Menkens. “But, starting out in the next couple games we have to come out and do that right away.”

Menkens mentioned Valley amplified its defensive force in the second half and began putting faith in one another to help-and-fill on the weakside. Taylor, Menkens, Janek Falkenstein and Tysen Prunty all held down the back end of the defense in the second half with towering blocks at the rim that triggered the Valiants’ transition game and turned the contest into a track meet.

“That’s when we started pushing it forward and getting ahead with all the transition layups,” said Menkens. “In the first half, we were backed off of them. They just were able to drive on us, but we pressured them more and trusted our teammates to help out. We had more energy and just went hard. We give it our all, and we get ahead.”

Once senior point guard Jarrett Gray and company were out and running on the break, Clatskanie couldn’t keep pace, and the Valiants were able to run away with the comfortable win. Taylor slammed home a transition dime from Gray, grabbed an offensive rebound and banked it in for two. Falkenstein swatted Clatskanie offering into the seats, and then followed his monster block with a jumper off the window to go up 40-29 with 3:30 to go in the third.

“I was really proud of how we came out with a different energy in the second half,” said Taylor. “In the first half, we kind of let them hang there with us, but (Clatskanie) played really well. We did a really good job of playing hard and turning it up.”

Gray swiped two steals that ended with athletic hoops on the other end, and Taylor’s layup off a designed inbounds play before the third quarter horn put Valley up 48-31 going into the fourth. Of Valley’s 18 third quarter points, 16 came from inside the paint. The other two arose from Taylor making two free throws after fighting for an offensive rebound.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic post Janek Falkenstein goes up for an offensive rebound in the second quarter of the Valiants' win over Clatskanie on Friday.

“The highest percentage shot in basketball is a layup,” noted Taylor. “So, we wanted to work the ball up the court and get easy layups.”

Taylor finished with 31 points while Gray had eight points and eight assists.

“We were looking to push it and kick it ahead,” said Gray.

Clatskanie chucked every junk defense one could imagine at Taylor and fellow senior captain Jarrett Gray in the first quarter. Funky zones, box-and-ones, traditional man-to-man schemes and switching man-to-man ploys were all amongst the varying schemes used to slow the all-state duo.

To Clatskanie’s credit, it worked for a quarter. Clatskanie took a 14-13 lead after the first period and held Taylor to just two points.

Yet, distinguished players and teams can be held down for so long. Taylor confiscated Clatskanie in the second quarter, tallying 14 points on a concoction of deafening two-handed slams, drop step jump hooks and bunnies from Gray at the tin.

Gray was the Valiants’ decipher, calmly dissecting Clatskanie’s defenses with veteran savvy and getting Valley into its appropriate offensive sets. The lefty had four assists in the second quarter, including a heady cross-court dish to Menkens who canned a left corner triple to put Valley up 27-19.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic wing JD Menkens enters a pass to the post in the second half of the Valiants' win over Clatskanie on Friday.

“We did a really good job of maintaining our poise,” said Taylor. “If we didn’t have a layup, we were coming back and setting something up. That shows our maturity that we’re willing to run, but we’re also willing to look and see what we got before we attack.”

“It was all about moving the ball and getting (Taylor) open for nice layups,” added Menkens.

As a seasoned senior who’s directed a profusion of different offenses and come through in past pressure situations, the game’s slowed down for Gray. The southpaw’s seeing things transpire and open up on the floor while playing at his own preferred pace. Case in point, on Menkens’ second quarter three, Gray prodded the Clatskanie transition defense, surveyed the hardwood, let the traffic dissipate and found an open Menkens.

It was a methodical, smart decision and one Gray said comes from competing on the varsity level since his freshman year. With experience, comes understanding of the game, and Gray’s on the top of his right now.

“I try not to get sped up,” said Gray. “I’ve played a lot of basketball over the last four year. Coach (Sobotka) has really helped me with that, staying calm, looking out there on the floor and making the right pass.”

Valley’s second half effort was one injured teammate Carter Buuck could appreciate. The senior captain who just got back in the lineup after rehabbing a shoulder injury, injured his knee last week and could feasibly be done for the year. All of the Valiants wrote Buuck’s #20 on the outside of their shoes in honor of their injured teammate, who sat on the bench in street clothes, and doled out positive reinforcement to his fellow mates.

“Our coach tells us when we’re on the court to take a piece of him with us,” said Menkens. “A lot of the guys, whether they’re from the bench or just other guys going out there, you really have to step up and take over what he did. Carter worked hard, so that’s what we come out and do. We go as hard as we can for him.”

Replacing Buuck’s immeasurable impact is going to be tough for Valley to regroup from because the senior lefty could do so many constructive things on the court. But, since Buuck was injured to start the season, Valley does have a sense of how to fill Buuck’s stat-stuffing ways and how they have to adjust both their individual and collective games.

And, what the Valiants can do is convey that 100 percent, industrious intensity that Buuck brought to the squad, and go all-out for their teammate who’d give his right arm for another shot to play again.

“He would get on us if we were playing slow and lackadaisical,” said Gray. “We try to play hard, keep him in our thoughts and get wins for him.”

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