by: TIMES PHOTO: JOE CRAMER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Jarrett Gray, left, and Valiant post Gabe Taylor, right were both named to the 3A state tournament's first-team for the state champion Valiants.

COOS BAY - Gabe Taylor started and ended the Class 3A state basketball tournament at Coos Bay with thunderous dunks.

In between, he and his Valley Catholic teammates lived up to the expectations of being tournament favorites as the Valiants claimed their first title since the 2007 season.

In three days, Valley Catholic beat Creswell, Harrisburg and, finally, Lewis & Clark rival De La Salle North Catholic, to take the crown at Marshfield High School in its final year as a Class 3A school.

Valley Catholic moves up to Class 4A in the fall.

“It feels great,” Taylor said. “All those hard days of practice are worth it.”

Valley Catholic coach Joel Sobotka said momentum that led to winning the title actually started last year, when the Valiants walked off the same floor with the fifth-place trophy. It’s customary in the state tournament that the teams line up after the placing games, receive their trophy from tournament officials, and then pose for pictures for family and friends.

“Not one person in the picture was smiling,” Sobotka said.

The players were driven by their desire to place better this year, and had a great summer basketball season. They then started this season with a couple of signature wins over top Class 4A teams Gladstone and La Salle Prep.

Valley Catholic had a couple of hiccups along the way, losing league games to De La Salle North Catholic and Portland Adventist. But when it came time for the state tournament, the Valiants were their best.

They overwhelmed Creswell, a hot shooting team from the PacWest Conference, building up a 33-14 halftime lead on the way to a 53-36 win. Taylor had 21 points and 15 rebounds against the smaller Bulldogs.

Then they took out Harrisburg, another PacWest team that beat 2013 finalist Blanchet Catholic in the quarterfinals.

After Harrisburg took a 9-8 lead at the first-quarter buzzer, the Valiants dominated, their defense denying the Eagles any points in the second quarter and any more field goals until midway through the third on the way to a 50-24 win.

“I feel we played great, especially on the defensive end,” said point guard Jarrett Gray “That’s what we’ve been stressing the last few weeks.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOE CRAMER - Valley Catholic junior wing Kazuma Lane and the Valiant boys' basketball team pulled away from De La Salle late in the fourth quarter of the 3A state championship game on Saturday to clinch a state title.

Taylor was dominant again, making 12 of his 14 shots from the floor on the way to 28 points, while Taylor added 14 points.

That set up the championship game against the Knights, who had become the sentimental favorites in Coos Bay with their breathtaking fast-break style.

The morning of the game, Sobotka got a message from one of the players on the team last winter, Liam Cassidy, which he shared with the players.

“He said leave it all on the floor,” Sobotka said.

The players did that, but the championship game wasn’t easy. Valley Catholic built a few leads of close to double digits only to see the Knights surge back.

But unlike the teams De La Salle beat to reach the championship game, Valley Catholic didn’t wilt under the in-your-face pressure the Knights employ.

Gray, Kazuma Lane, JD Menkens and the other Valley Catholic ball-handlers generally avoided the turnovers that had plagued earlier opponents of the Knights. Gray even matched De La Salle with a few fast-break baskets off of steals.

The crucial moment came early in the fourth quarter, when De La Salle had used one last run to tie the game at 43 on an athletic basket by Larry Kemp with just under five minutes to go.

Sobotka called timeout to settle his team, though he said later he didn’t have to worry about panic.

“I have a tremendous group of seniors,” he said, adding that as a team the group has great maturity.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JOE CRAMER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Jarrett Gray, left, and Valiant post Gabe Taylor, right were both named to the 3A state tournament's first-team for the state champion Valiants.

His message in the timeout was simple.

“We talked this season about finishing,” he said. “Finish a quarter. Finish a game. Tonight, I told them to finish the tournament.”

After the timeout, Gray was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to put Valley Catholic back in front, and then scored a fast break bucket.

The next time down, he found Carter Buuck alone on the wing and Buuck swished a three-pointer.

Gray then had another steal and hoop. In the span of 100 seconds, Valley Catholic had burst in front by nine points.

A few minutes later, Taylor slammed down his final dunk of the tournament and the Valiants were celebrating a 62-50 victory.

Taylor and Gray led the Valiants in the scoring column during the championship game, as they had all tournament, each pouring in 22 points.Taylor added 12 rebounds, while Gray had six rebounds, four assists and three steal.

They each also were recognized by the coaches as unanimous first-team selections.

But they stressed the championship was a team accomplishment, one that began long before Saturday.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gray said. “We worked so hard this year. I’m proud of this team. Taylor was the tournament1s leading scorer, averaging 23.7 points for the three games, and Gray ranked seventh at 14.7 points. Taylor also was the leading rebounder, averaging 12.7 boards, while Gray led in assists at 4.7.

Lane and Drew VanderZanden also were in the top six for assists and Gray ranked third in steals.

The Valiants finished the season 27-2 overall and ended the year with a 16-game win streak.

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