by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior wing Kazuma Lane drives past a Umatilla defender for two in the second quarter of the Valiants first round rout of the Vikings.

Gabe Taylor remembers the nauseating feeling like it was yesterday.

It was sometime after midnight on a foggy night in Coos Bay, in the somber hours following the Valley Catholic boys’ basketball team’s humbling, 48-37, 3A semifinal loss to Blanchet Catholic, ending the Valiants’ dream of a state championship, axing what was one of the best seasons in school just shy of the ultimate goal.

Taylor— a junior at the time— sat inside the Valiants’ team hotel, defeated and disgusted with his play and glanced at senior captain Liam Cassidy. The two friends were resigned to the fact that they wouldn’t be champions, and wouldn’t raise a banner,

To this day, it’s a sensation Taylor thinks about on a daily basis and, one that’s stuck with Valley this season as it’s embarked on a sort of revenge tour.

“It was sickening,” said Taylor. “I remember looking across the room at Liam and feeling like I let him down. I was so heartbroken because I felt like I owed it to him. I have the same feeling with the seniors this year. We owe it to everyone to go out there and play the best we can.”

“It makes us want it a lot more,” added junior JD Menkens. “We know how it felt last year and we don’t want to feel that again. It makes us push a lot harder to get it and that’s what we plan to do.”

Exactly a year to the day of the Blanchet loss Valley stomped out Umatilla, 77-34, on Saturday in the first round of the 3A state playoffs, ensuring the vastly-improved Valiants would get a shot at vengeance at the 2014 3A state tournament. Valley begins its journey to a championship against Creswell at 1:30 p.m. at Marshfield High School. And, if the Valiants get past the Bulldogs, a rematch with Blanchet lies in wait in the semis.

“We have one goal and that’s to win it,” said Menkens. “We’re going down there to give it everything we have and win three games in a row. We’re not going to think other teams have no chance against us. Every team is out to get us and we definitely expect it to be a competition. We’re going to push it and give it our all.”

“That’s all we’ve thought about all spring, summer and fall,” said senior Carter Buuck. “We think about that loss to Blanchet and Dayton in the third place game every day. I feel like that’s been the inspiration to our workouts and how hard we work in practice every single day. We’ll take that memory and motivation down to Coos Bay, and with that mindset we’re a favorite down there. We can take home a championship.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior post Kristoff Oswald looks for someone to pass to after grabbing a defensive board.

Valley dominated every facet of the game against Umatilla from start to finish, vaunting its diverse attributes as a unit and what makes it one — if not the — top state favorite going down to Coos Bay. Sprinting the wings. Filling the lanes. Turning defense into offense. Tossing lobs from Jarrett Gray to Taylor in transition. Everything that’s made Valley great played a role in the first round massacre of the Vikings who were nothing more than fodder for the singularly-motivated Valiants.

“We weren’t going to give them any mercy,” said Menkens. “We were going to end their season and keep ours going. Our plan is to keep our season going for as long as it can and get the best honor we can.”

Taylor scored 11 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter, while Kazuma Lane drained a pair of threes and Gray chipped in seven points and three dimes. At the end of one, after a Lane triple from the corner, Valley was already up 24-9.

“We came out with the passion we needed to, to get it done,” said Taylor. “We knew if we didn’t win this game, we weren’t going to Coos Bay, so that’s what we focused on.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic wing Tysen Prunty soars to the basket for a righty lay-up in the first half of the Valiants blowout playoff win over Umatilla.

Tysen Prunty scored seven points in the second quarter and Taylor bagged seven straight at one point including a lob dunk at the rim from Gray. Drew VanderZanden’s lay-up off a nice pocket pass from Menkens pushed Valley’s lead to 40-9. Then, VanderZanden put home an offensive board to go up 43-11 at halftime.

Menkens said Valley’s ball movement, working Umatilla’s zone defense from side to side by passing more than dribbling opened up the outside shots and got Taylor free in the post. And, though the three-point looks dropped fell like rain drops all night, that didn’t stop the Valiants from doing what they do better than anybody in the land—getting stops on defense and running teams into the ground on the fast break.

Lane scored 13 points, Gray had 10. Prunty and VanderZanden tacked on seven each and Menkens had four to go along with four assists.

“We just look to go as fast as we can,” said Menkens. “It’s great because our wings and then Jarrett as our point, we rebound it and we don’t look to pass, we just look to go. If we can take care of the ball, the more we can score and take care of business. That’s what helps us get leads on teams.”

“We didn’t mess around, we didn’t let them hang around, we just played our type of basketball,” said Buuck. “We took it to ‘em. We smashed them right in the mouth. We’re all in, every night. That’s been our philosophy. We feel like when we bring that mentality, and we take the fight to a team, nobody is going to be able to beat us.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Jarrett Gray squeezes between two Umatilla defenders in the second quarter of the Valiants first round win.

Perhaps no Valiant has his finger on Valley’s pulse more than Buuck, who made his triumphant return to the court on Saturday after sitting out the past 12 games with an ACL injury. Buuck — who also missed most of the hoops’ preseason while rehabbing a shoulder injury from football — said sitting on the bench for the majority of the season was admittedly frustrating being the fiery competitor that he is. Yet, he’s seen this squad evolve into a force that’s growing in confidence and playing with a sole focus and killer intensity.

“We have so many players that other teams have to account for,” said Buuck. “Gabe Taylor is an unstoppable force inside and outside. Jarrett Gray can handle the ball, take it inside, take it outside. Kazuma Lane can fire from deep. JD, Tysen, Butz, everybody brings something special to this team.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore post Janek Falkenstein swats a Umatilla offering at the rim in the fourth quarter of the Valiants win on Saturday.

Valley hit five threes in the third quarter, including a top-of-the-key rainbow from Buuck, who called for a ball screen, but instead dribbled between his legs and buried the buzzer-beating triple in the eyeball of an oncoming Viking.

“They were giving me crap in the locker room for calling for the screen, but I’ve been doing that move since I played on a seven foot hoop with my brother,” said Buuck with a laugh. “It was just an amazing feeling. It’s crazy that I’ve had the school, the team support. With all these people behind me, I really thought that three was for everyone who’s supported me my whole life.”

Valley will touch down in Coos Bay as the 3A’s proverbial favorite for a state crown, the top-ranked team at the tourney, toting a 13-game win streak and a bounty of confidence.

Because head coach Joel Sobotka scheduled a grimy preseason slate, Valley’s already played five of the seven other tournament teams, including No. 2 Country Christian that sits on the other side of the bracket.

The Valiants vowed to control what they control, specifically their effort and intensity on defense. The offensive fireworks will come of their defensive work, though they’re aware playoff basketball is more rugged, physical and half-court based.

“We always say defense will determine who wins and loses and offense will determine by how much,” said Taylor. “It’s going to come down to defense. You never really know how some of these teams are going to play defense on you, but you just have to make sure you dominate them on the defensive end. If we focus on the defensive end, on getting stops, then we’ll be fine.”

“Every team has an achilles heel, but I feel right now our biggest opponent is us,” added Buuck. “If we start being selfish, start not playing defense then that could hurt us. But, right now we have a mindset where we won’t be stopped. We’re pedal to the metal.”

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