The shorthanded VC boys team is still trying to find its way in 2008 play
by: JAIME VALDEZ, TAKEOFF — Valley Catholic freshman Brandon Gallinat (center) rebounds the ball over Horizon Christian's C.J. Mitchell during his team’s West Valley League loss on Monday.

BEAVERTON - It's been a season of transition for the Valley Catholic boys basketball team, and the Valiants are in another one.

With just one starter back from last season's Class 3A state championship team, Valley Catholic was starting to get its footing when 6-foot-6 post Chris Kiefer went down for a month with a severely sprained knee.

Monday's game against Horizon Christian at Valley Catholic High School was the Valiants' third without its inside presence and the ripple effect showed its strain. VC struggled from the floor and fell to upstart Horizon Christian 49-35.

With the loss, the Valiants slipped to 2-3 in the West Valley League and 7-7 overall, while the Hawks continued to impress in its first season in the league, remaining undefeated at 5-0 (12-1 overall).

'Horizon is very solid,' Valley Catholic coach Jeff Gallagher said. 'But I thought we did more things to beat ourselves.'

Namely, shooting 30 percent (13 of 43) from the floor and 2 of 15 behind the three-point arc. With Kiefer - and his 14 rebounds per game - the team could work inside-outside to free up shots. Without him, the Valiants are realizing they need to find other ways.

'It's something we have to get used to,' Gallagher said. 'He spoiled us in ways we didn't know. Without him, it completely changes the complexion of our team.'

Still, the Valiants fought back from an early deficit Monday. Trailing 12-4, junior guard Jackson Gambee swished a three-pointer on the top of the arc with 1 minute, 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

Valley Catholic closed the gap further in the second quarter when senior guard Nick Raulino worked inside for a basket and later dropped in a short hook shot to make it 19-15 with 3:05 left before halftime.

But the Hawks closed the half on a 9-0 run and the Valiants never got closer than nine points thereafter.

'Once we start playing well together, we'll be fine,' junior guard Kent Kassel said. 'We're still getting used to each other's tendencies. Every game we can win. It comes down to the little things.'

Horizon Christian did them Monday, spreading its scoring with sophomore C.J. Mitchell leading the team with 12 points and senior Nick Gowen (10 points) controlling the paint. Valley Catholic had the same with Kiefer - and his double-digit points/rebounds - in the lineup but is adjusting to his absence.

'Take him away and it allows teams to come out more aggressively on the perimeter,' Gallagher said. 'Moving forward, we need to alleviate some of the pressure from our guards by running more set plays. We have guards that can shoot and scorers among the best in the conference.'

The Valiants shot better in the third quarter and closed to 28-19 on a 10-foot floater by Michael Lyon. Senior guard Jacob Bear hooked in a putback and Kassel later drove for a bucket and foul, adding the free throw to make it 35-22.

Kassel had eight of his team-high 10 points in the third quarter, adding two layins, the second another three-point play with 44 seconds left. But Valley Catholic couldn't put much of a dent in the deficit and lost for the first time in four games.

'We live and die by the 'three,'' Lyon said. 'We'll live a lot more than die by it. Tonight we couldn't hit the broad side of the barn.'

But the Valiants remain upbeat, figuring it would take some time for things to come together this season.

'Right now we are focusing on making the playoffs,' Kassel said. 'Our league is unique. Every team will compete. I think that will benefit us.'

'A big part of the season will be us developing,' Lyon said. 'We are starting to play through adversity. That's a sign we can eliminate our stretches when we lose it.'

Losing Kiefer is something else Valley Catholic needs to play through to make the playoffs when he could return. The Valiants host Westside Christian on Friday then travel to Dayton on Monday and Gervais on Wednesday.

'I really think we're not far from being a good basketball team,' Gallagher said. 'Our team's getting better as a result of each individual getting more comfortable.'

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