Valley Catholic is tied in the final four minutes before falling to Horizon
NORTH BEND - The challenge had never been greater for the Valley Catholic boys basketball team.
And the Valiants were nearly - so very, very nearly - up to it.
Valley Catholic, facing defending Class 3A state champion Horizon Christian in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament at North Bend High School on March 3, gave the Hawks all they wanted in their tournament quarterfinal before finally coming up on the short end of a 38-29 decision.
The Valiants controlled the tempo from the opening tip, led at the end of the first quarter, led at halftime, and were still dead-even at 22-22 with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left to play before Horizon Christian finally pulled away.
The loss dropped the Lewis and Clark League champion Valiants' record to 23-5, while the West Valley League champion Hawks improved to 25-4.
'We knew it would be close at the end of the game and it was,' said Valley Catholic senior guard Andy Gram, who led his team with nine points, five rebounds and two steals. 'I thought we did a great job.'
'We just wanted to come out and show we could play with anyone in the state, and Horizon was the perfect team to play,' said Valley Catholic senior point guard Cesar Catibayan, who had eight points, two assists and two steals against Horizon. 'They're the No. 1 team and they have the best player in the state, so I just thought 'What better team could we play to show we're one of the better teams in the state?''
'The game plan was to make it a close game in the fourth quarter so we were in a position to win, and that's exactly what we did, added VC sophomore guard Christian McDonald, who had six points and three rebounds. 'I'm pretty happy with the game plan, just not with the outcome.'
Valley's game plan was, simply enough, to take time off the clock and effectively shorten the game, control the tempo and prevent the taller Hawks and star Jordan Tebbutt from rolling to a high-scoring shootout victory.
After the Hawks missed their opening shot, the Valiants passed the ball around the perimeter and didn't take their first shot - a miss by Catibayan - until just 4:54 remained in the opening quarter.
Indeed, the Valiants held the Hawks to 0-for-5 shooting and forced three Horizon turnovers in that opening quarter, and got a Gram basket on a drive to lead 2-0 at the end of the stanza.
The pace picked up, though just slightly, in the second quarter, but so did Horizon. The Hawks finally got on the scoreboard when Austin King hit a free throw with 6:55 to go before halftime, then added a fast break hoop by Tebbutt and a Michael Loomis three-pointer that tied the game at 6-6 with 2:52 left in the half.
But VC answered in the final two minutes of the half, getting a tough shot by Gram over two defenders, a midcourt steal and layin by Catibayan, and a short jumpshot by Justin Dale to provide a 12-9 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the quarter. Tebbutt scored his team's only additional points in the final minutes, rebounding his own miss and scoring with 1:16 to go, then turning it into a three-point play.
The Valiants held the Hawks to 3-of-14 shooting from the floor and forced seven turnovers in the first two quarters, but Horizon began to hit its stride in the second half. The Hawks pulled even at 16-16 when Loomis took a pass from Calvin Anderson and drilled a 'three' from the top of the key with 3:37 to go in the third quarter, then took their first lead at 18-16 when Wyatt Houston took an inbounds pass from Tebbutt and scored inside on the next possession.
Valley got back to even at 18-18 at the end of the third, and were still tied at 22-22 when Catibayan converted two free throws with 3:52 left in the game, but then, finally, Horizon took over.
Loomis did most of the damage down the stretch, first hitting a three-pointer from the left side with 3:29 left, and then - following a technical foul on the Valley Catholic bench - hitting four straight free throws in nine seconds to boost his team's lead to 29-24 with 2:53 remaining.
Houston then added four straight points - hitting 2-of-4 foul shots and scoring on a backdoor cut assisted by Tebbutt - as his team's lead crested at 33-24 with 1:05 to go.
Gram answered with a 'three' for VC, and after one Andrew Batiuk foul shot for Horizon, Bruce Jones scored on a fast break to cut the Valiants' deficit to 33-29 with 35 seconds to play. But Loomis and Tebbutt both hit back-to-back free throws in the remaining seconds to seal their team's victory.
'We love to run the floor, but tonight, that wasn't in the game plan,' Catibayan said. 'We slowed it down. I was really happy with our team because we all played together well and stuck to our game plan.'
'That was a good game plan - just not the right outcome,' McDonald said. 'We knew … we didn't want to have a shootout with them, so everyone got the mindset that we're going to slow the ball down and control tempo. We were right there.'
Loomis led all scorers with 15 points on 3-of-7 shooting from three-point range and a 6-of-6 day at the foul line, while Tebbutt added 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.