BOYS BASKETBALL: Valley Catholic rallies from nine down to beat No.1-ranked Eagles 54-50
SALEM - Say this at least about the Valley Catholic boys basketball team - the Valiants are going to get their money's worth at the Class 3A state tournament.
Valley Catholic (21-6), the West Valley League champions, opened the tournament in grand style Wednesday afternoon at Willamette University, rallying from nine points down in the final 1 minute and 51 seconds to beat No. 1 Santiam Christian 54-50.
Valley Catholic will face Riverside in the 3A state semifinals at Willamette at 3:15 p.m. Friday.
'We've got nine seniors so we're all experienced and we're going to go out there and compete until the end of it,' said Valley Catholic senior wing Dustin Johnson, who hit two free throws with nine seconds remaining to provide the final margin. 'That's just what we do.'
'I still am speechless,' added Valiant coach Jeff Gallagher. 'I didn't even really know what to say to the kids. I just told them that's the way to never give up and keep battling.'
And they had to battle to thefinal horn after giving up a 10-point lead earler in the game and then falling behind 45-36 on Jeremy Bittner's two free throws with 1:51 left to play.
From there, though, Valley Catholic took off, outscoring the Eagles (19-4), the PacWest Conference champs, 18-5 in the next 1:42.
Andy Haugen (14 points) got things started with a putback, and Ben Johnson added back-to-back three-pointers to cut Santiam's edge to 47-44 with 57 seconds left.
'I've been struggling with that for a long time,' Ben Johnson said. 'I'm very streaky, inconsistent, but I got hot at the right time.'
Then, while the Eagles struggled from the foul line (they hit just 5-of-12 free throws in the final 1:28) down the stretch, theValiants sealed their win at the line, hitting 10-of-11 in the last 34 seconds, with senior point guard Trevor Gates hitting four straight and Michael Lyon and both Johnsons adding two each.
'In a tournament setting, you've got to have a game like this where you win one you're not supposed to win, and we ended up coming out on top,' Gallagher said.