Motivated Valiants roll to semifinal victory
FOREST GROVE — The Valley Catholic High School boys basketball team certainly has plenty of motivation.
The Valiants are driven by the memories of last year's state playoff loss at La Grande, leaving them one win short of reaching the Class 4A state tournament. They are also playing with one of their Valley Catholic classmates in mind, a friend who is battling health issues.
Well, Valley Catholic has taken all of that motivation — as well as some spirited, determined play — and turned it into a berth in the Class 4A state championship game.
The Valiants earned a spot in Saturday's state title tilt by running to a 67-52 win over Tillamook in a Class 4A state tournament semifinal game played Friday at Forest Grove High School.
"This is tremendous," Valley Catholic junior wing Andrew Plambeck said with a smile after the victory. "This is the next step. We really wanted to play in the finals."
"Last year, it was a long five-hour bus ride after we lost at La Grande," said Valley Catholic senior wing Daniel Hardy, who had three spectacular dunks on his way to scoring a team-high 13 points in the victory. "Ever since that game last year, we've been really motivated."
For even more motivation, the Valley Catholic players just needed to look down at their own shoes. Valiant players wrote "AJ" on the bottom of their shoes prior to Friday's game, in honor of one of their classmates, who goes by the nickname "AJ," who is dealing with some heath issues.
"When ever we're feeling bad, we just need to look at the bottom of our shoes," Plambeck said. "That's something for us to play for. This game meant a lot to us."
With the victory, Valley Catholic, the No. 2 team out of the Cowapa League, and the No. 3 team in the final OSAA power rankings, improved to 20-5 on the season with the victory. The Valiants also advance to the Class 4A state title game, where they'll face Cowapa League rival Seaside on Saturday, starting at 8:30 p.m., at Forest Grove High School.
"We're definitely excited for that," Plambeck said.
Tillamook, yet another Cowapa League squad, moved to 12-17 on the season with the setback. The Cheesemakers will face North Bend in the Class 4A state tourney third-place game, starting at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Forest Grove High School.
Tillamook, despite its season record, showed that it was there to play early on in Friday's semifinal contest. The Cheesemakers took an 11-8 lead after junior Ian Collett scored on a steal and layup with 2 minutes and 51 seconds left to play in the first quarter.
But that seemed to ignite Valley Catholic. The Valiants answered back in a big way, getting back-to-back three-pointers from senior wing Joey Braun and Plambeck, giving VC a 14-11 lead with 1:12 left in the period, and the Valiants wouldn't trail again the rest of the way.
Valley Catholic senior post Vlad Katin ended the quarter with five straight points, including a short-range banker coming with just two seconds left in the period, giving the Valiants a 19-13 lead going into the second quarter.
Tillamook, getting a bank shot by junior Chase Wagner and a three-pointer by Collett, scored five straight points to open the second period, trimming the Valiant lead to one, at 19-18. But, from there, the Valiants turned to their defense.
Valley Catholic helped force Tillamook into nine turnovers in the quarter. The highlight of that defensive attack was a steal and breakaway thunderous dunk by Hardy, which gave the Valiants a 29-21 lead with 4:32 remaining in the period.
Plambeck and Braun each added three-point baskets and senior wing Colin Haggerty had a pair of hoops in the period, helping Valley Catholic run out to a 36-26 halftime lead.
The Valiants kept their momentum going early in the third quarter. Hardy scored on a follow-up basket to open the period. Then, seconds later, Hardy came up with another steal and breakaway dunk — putting a little windmill action with this slam — upping the lead to 40-26 with 7:10 left in the quarter.
Katin added four points in the period, helping the Valiants push the lead to 48-33 going into the fourth quarter.
Tillamook, still fighting, was able to trim the margin to 53-43 after junior Ramon Flores sank a pair of free throws with 5:54 left in the game.
But, again, VC answered back. And, again, it was a big-time dunk by Hardy that got the Valiants rolling again. This time, after taking an inside feed from Plambeck, Hardy went up high for a two-handed slam, which upped the lead to 55-43 with 5:35 remaining.
"It feels good," Hardy said of his three dunks. "But it's not about that. With this team, it doesn't matter who scores, as long as we score."
From there, Hardy and Haggerty each scored four points down the stretch, helping Valley Catholic put away the 67-52 victory.
"That was so much fun," Plambeck said. "Daniel had some big dunks, and we made our shots count."
"Our defense was big," Hardy said. "Defense wins games, offense determines by how much."
In addition to his team-high 13 points, Hardy also had six rebounds, four steals, two blocked shots and two assists in the victory.
Haggerty and Katin each scored 11 points. Plambeck had nine points, four assists and a pair of steals. Junior post Ben Robbins seven points and four rebounds and Braun scored eight points.
Valley Catholic, as a tam, made 23 of 45 shots from the field and 14 of 16 free throws.
Collett led all scorers with 14 points. Senior Jacob Berge added 12 for the Cheesemakers.
In Saturday's title game, Valley Catholic will see a familiar foe in Seaside, which is 23-1 on the season.
The teams have already played three times this year. The Seagulls won 65-42 in a league game played Jan. 24 at Seaside. The Valiants were victorious 68-50 in a league game played Feb. 10 at Valley Catholic. And, in a league playoff game held Feb. 21 at Tillamook, Seaside came away with a 71-59 win.
"We're going to have to bring the same defensive intensity that we had tonight — and double it," Hardy said.
"We're going to have to give it all that we have," Plambeck said. "And pound the boards."
Prior to the win over Tillamook, Valley Catholic opened the state tournament with a 68-50 win over Henley in a quarterfinal game played Thursday at Pacific University. Hardy led the Valiants with 15 points in that victory. Haggerty added 10 points, Braun had nine while Plambeck and Katin each had eight.