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Time to shine

Valley Catholic enters the Class 3A state tournament on a big roll
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, TEAM TIME — During introductions, the Valley Catholic girls basketball team gets pumped up for their Saturday night home game against Neah-Kah-Nie.  Valley Catholic went on to win 48-26.

BEAVERTON - For a team that hadn't lost in nearly two months, Valley Catholic remains levelheaded, even admitting to being nervous before Saturday night's Class 3A girls basketball state playoff game against Neah-Kah-Nie.

But that didn't last very long. The Valiants got into the flow and back into the state tournament for the first time since 2003 with a resounding 48-26 victory over the Pirates at Valley Catholic High School.

'We started out with some nerves,' said Valley Catholic post Hope Danielson. 'Once we realized this game gets us to state, then we really pushed it.'

And pushed their win streak to 18 games in the process, while improving to 25-3 overall, including a perfect 20-0 against Class 3A opponents. While the streak has been a nice bonus, it's far from the No. 3-ranked Valiants' focal point.

'I kind of lost track of that one,' Valley Catholic coach John Innes said. 'We're so focused on other goals. We just want to get the next one.'

Following Saturday's playoff victory, the next one for the Valiants is a first round game against No. 1-ranked Myrtle Point at 8:15 p.m. Thursday at Willamette University in Salem.

'It's almost unreal we got to state,' said Valley Catholic guard Jena Sepich. 'It's so cool we get to go down there and be with the team. It's going to be a lot of fun and on top we get to go out and play basketball.'

Sepich played a big part in making it happen, scoring a game-high 18 points in Saturday's victory. She had half of the Valiants points through the first half, which closed with Valley Catholic in a 18-8 lead.

While their offense started slow, the Valiants' defense made sure the Pirates did likewise - and then some. Valley Catholic held Neah-Kah-Nie scoreless for the first 6 minutes, 28 seconds of the game and then another 7:32 before the Pirates got their second score.

'We came out hard with our press and were able to get a good lead,' Sepich said. 'Even if we're not hitting our shots, our defense gives us a confidence boost.'

Valley Catholic took an 8-2 lead into the second quarter then ran off 10 unanswered points, starting when junior post Lisa Gallinat worked inside for a pair of buckets. After four points by Sepich, guard Johanna Crisman capped the 13-0 run when she swished a jumper from near the free throw line for an 18-2 lead with 3:35 left in the first half.

The Valiants didn't score again in the second quarter, but the Pirates never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Neah-Kah-Nie's Tia McCormick, who had a team-high eight points, hit a three-pointer and Tracy Avritt added a three-point play, but the Pirates still trailed 18-8 after shooting 3-of-19 and committing 13 turnovers in the first half.

'This situation is new, even for the seniors,' said Innes, who is in his third year with the Valiants. 'We tried to channel that nervous energy into full-court basketball. If we get steals and layins, it can really calm our nerves.'

Valley Catholic all but put the game away with an 8-0 run to start the second half. Senior guard Caitlin Rossetti drove inside and kicked the ball out to Sepich for a three-pointer to start the spurt. Gallinat added a puthack and Danielson drained a turnaround jumper as the Valiants moved ahead 26-8.

Valley Catholic led by as many as 20 at 32-12 after Greta Mannen's nifty runner in the lane and Danielson's inside score from Sepich that made it 34-14.

McCormick, the Lewis and Clark Conference Player of the Year, went coast-to-coast for a layin in a 6-0 Pirates' run that ended with Brooke Winsted's three-pointer to make it 34-20.

But Sepich rolled in a jumper from the left elbow with 0:05 left in the third quarter and Valley Catholic did nothing but pull away in the fourth to complete its goal of reaching the state tournament.

'We knew we'd do well, but we didn't think it would be this good,' Danielson said. 'It's so exciting. You have no idea. I'm almost screaming.'