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No. 2 Seagulls get huge games from their backcourt, vanquish Valiants with defense

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior guard Davis Johnson flips a pass ahead to Jack Grasberger in transition against Seaside

There were no excuses, no mitigating circumstances coming from Valley Catholic locker room.

The rematch of the 2017 Class 4A state championship between the Valiants and Seaside was admittedly no contest. The defending state champion Seagulls showed they're still in the upper crest of the 4A ranks, using suppressing man-to-man defense and deadly shotmaking to vanquish Valley in a 51-35 defeat at Valley Catholic High School on Tuesday. Seaside was the aggressor offensively and the enforcer defensively both in pace and physicality, something Valley didn't sugarcoat in the aftermath of the defeat. The Valiants, who will certainly be heard from again, tipped their cap to the Seagulls and vowed they'll take the defeat and turn it into a positive moving forward.

"Seaside played their butts off," Valley Catholic sophomore guard Trey Eberhart said. "They did everything well. They played harder than us. We have to play harder as a team next time we're at Seaside. I think it'll be a close game and hopefully, we can get the 'W'."

Still, it would be unwise to turn a blind eye to Valley's capacity. The Valiants haven't peaked yet, while Seaside played arguably its best game on both ends of the floor this season. Grasberger played extended minutes for the first time in a month and is just now getting back into the swing of things after dealing with an ankle injury. At 12-5 overall, Valley is No. 5 in the 4A power rankings with a roster that's still young, still growing and maturing into a unit that can vie with the elite of the elite. Seaside opened Valley's eyes, certainly, but it didn't drop the curtain on the Valiants' season.

"This was a reality check," Eberhart said. "We have to work hard and that starts tomorrow with guys going hard in practice and just keep building from there."

And give credit where credit is due, as Valley did continually after the contest. Seaside is a team that plays with a certain swagger, that freewheels and attacks on offense, but doesn't give a single inch on the defensive end and is supremely disciplined on that side of the floor. Seaside junior Chase Januik and sophomore Ryan Hague were masterful playmakers, getting their own offense when the time and moment called for such undertakings or setting each other up or their teammates for open looks. And the rest of the Seagulls are rugged, sturdy, same-sized athletes who play well together.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior guard Davis Johnson flips a pass ahead to Jack Grasberger in transition against Seaside

Sans a quick four points in the first minute of the first quarter, Seaside held Valley to just 10 points the rest of the half, getting chest-to-chest with the Valiants on the perimeter, doubling Grasberger and Ben Robbins when they got the ball inside, taking Valley out of what it desired to do offensively. Seaside played hard-nosed, tough man-to-man defense that caused deflections, steals, and live ball turnovers that spilled into transition offense and one-on-one opportunities for Hague and Januik. And while Valley wholeheartedly attacked the glass and won the rebounding war, it couldn't get its offense to click. At the half, the Seagulls led 26-14.

"There's definitely a physical aspect to it," Grasberger said. "We need to get stronger and more physical. A couple of times guys were struggling to get open. Seaside was pretty locked in, though. They played tight defense. We just need to get tougher and there's a mental aspect to that too, not just physical."

Eberhart was a spark plug in the fourth quarter, matching Seaside's physicality, forcing steals himself, causing chaos with his quicks and quicksilver hands. On consecutive trips in the fourth quarter, the sophomore swished a left corner three and harassed a Seagull into a cough-up at the three-minute mark.

"I was trying to bring energy to the team, trying to get us fired back up in the game," Eberhart said. "I wanted to bring some effort, some life. We started clicking. We just can't get down when (Seaside) starts making threes and going on runs. We have to fire back and give them what they gave us."

In the third quarter Valley turned two steals into two quick hoops including a sweet Eberhart to Andrew Plambeck give-and-go that brought the Valiants within 29-18. Yet, as was the case for most of the evening, Seaside stabilized the momentum when Januik answered with a cold-blooded corner three that extended the Seagulls' edge to 32-18. Valley pulled within 44-31 in the fourth, but Januik drove the lane, drew two Valiant defenders and flipped an over-the-shoulder dime to Hague. As teams with championship DNA tend to do, Seaside countered each Valley combination punch with a haymaker.

"It seemed like every time we scored, there'd be something back at us," Grasberger said. "We have to be better at that. We have to be better at getting back and scoring again and not focusing on the last play, but focusing on the next play instead. We have to get consecutive stops. It can't be back-and-forth. That's not how it works. If you want to get a good lead, you have to get consecutive stops and not turn the ball over on offense."

Januik led Seaside with 19 points while Hogue had 17. Plambeck and Eberhart both had 8 points for Valley and Robbins added 5.

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