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Valiants come out of the gate on fire, smother Gladiators in home opener for victory

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior wing Andrew Plambeck buries a left-wing three against Gladstone on Nov. 29 at Valley Catholic High School.

On opening night, when first-game nerves and on-edge emotion can take effect, Valley Catholic looked and played like a self-assured team with something to prove.

Against a respected Gladstone program with its own strong tradition and background, the Valiants began their season the hard way, hanging its hat on the defensive end of the floor, and as a result, made their first act look relatively easy.

Getting after the Gladiators with teeming team defense that triggered turnovers and runouts on the other way while playing poised offensively, Valley (1-0) rolled to a 32-14 halftime lead and was never challenged in a 50-35 victory on Nov. 29 at Valley Catholic High School.

"Our team effort was really there," Valley Catholic junior point guard Jack Tetzloff said. "We were willing to work hard and get in our gaps (defensively). (Head coach Joel Sobotka) is always talking about having our hands up and using our length to our advantage and I think we did that tonight."

The Valiants, who lost the Class 4A state championship game a year ago to Cowapa League rival, Seaside, showed no lingering effects of the heart-rending defeat. Valley was connected and communicative on defense, playing with the sort of effort and intensity that Sobotka seeks from his team no matter the talent level on the roster. Takeaways were aplenty, especially in the first half. The Gladiators had more turnovers (nine) than made field goals (seven), a ramification of Valley's team defense that contested every outside shot and didn't allow anything easy around the rim.

Valley started the game on an 8-0 run and didn't allow Gladstone to get on the scoreboard until there were 3 minutes and 18 seconds left in the first quarter. At the end of one, the Valiants led 18-7 with the aid of four first-quarter threes, two from senior wing Andrew Plambeck, who also canned a pull-up jumper.

"I liked how we didn't come out flat," Plambeck said. "We got out to a good lead, took really good shots. We played really good defense, got a lot of deflections — more than last year I think."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Ben Robbins lifts a jump hook toward the rim against Gladstone on Nov. 29 at Valley Catholic High School.

In addition to the nine takeaways, Valley forced a half dozen or so Gladiator bricks that were coerced by Valley's length and activity on the defensive end. If Valley wasn't shutting down Gladstone with man-to-man, it was altering perimeter shots with long arms and high hands with its tricky, extended zone defense. Or, the Valiants came up with sly steals that transitioned into easy offense in the open floor be it three point casts with lots of room to catch and release or good looks inside from senior post Jack Grasberger or Valley's penetrating guards like Tetzloff, Davis Johnson, and Peter Boileau.

"We executed well and had great ball movement," Tetzloff said. "Coach was drawing up great plays, we were setting good screens and getting good shots. As the season goes on I think we'll just get better and better as we continue to gel and get used to playing with each other."

Tetzloff, Johnson, Plambeck, and Boileau played unselfish basketball throughout, getting into the lane off dribble penetration and looking for each other cutting to the hoop or relocating around the three-point line. Grasberger was a beast in the second quarter, scoring six points inside the paint while setting up Plambeck with a pull-up jumper by tipping an offensive rebound back toward the perimeter.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore guard Trey Eberhart eyes a Gladstone ball handler on Nov. 29 at Valley Catholic High School.

Plambeck, Grasberger, and Ben Robbins are Valley's only three seniors on the squad, but they've played extensively on the varsity level since their freshmen or sophomore seasons. Grasberger and Robbins have great chemistry inside, particularly when it comes to playing the high-low two-man game and pounding the offensive glass as a tag team. They're both football players who bring that brand of physicality to the hardwood. Each big guy is aggressive, skilled and assertive around the basket, but they could both step out and run pick-and-roll with Valley's guards or execute the offense from the top of the key. Plambeck is one of the Valiants' best three-point threats, a smooth ball-handler who can get to his shot anytime he wants, but makes smart decisions and plays a selfless style of basketball. Grasberger (13 points) and Plambeck (12 points) were Valley's leading scorers against Gladstone.

"I just go with the flow of the offense and take what the defense gives us," Plambeck said. "We're always looking for great shots and whatever (Sobotka) draws up, we're going to execute."

Tetzloff has been handed the keys to Valley's offense as the starting point guard and displayed a cerebral, pass-first game in his starting debut with seven assists and just one turnover. Boileau and Johnson also flashed moments of promise, knocking down outside shots, rotating the ball, attacking the tin at opportune times.

Valley seems to have a nice blend of posts, wings and ball handlers at its disposal as it sets out take on Cowapa and ramp up for another state title run. Over the next two weeks, the Valiants take on 3A power Blanchet Catholic, North Marion and Westside Christian.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Jack Grasberger goes to the rim for two against Gladstone on Nov. 29 at Valley Catholic High School.

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