Valley weathers Gladstone's storm, advances to second round
In a Class 4A play-in game billed as a showdown between two of the state's senior stars, in Noelle Mannen and Grace Campbell, it was Valley Catholic's unsung heroes who stole the show.
With their playoff existence hanging in the balance and a gutsy Gladstone squad coming out swinging from the bottom of their shoes, Valley juniors Katelyn Snook and Sarah Jones ensured the Valiants would live another day.
Jones smothered Campbell from the opening tip, holding the senior guard to just two points with blanketing defense. And Snook helped send the Gladiators home for good, scoring 11 of her game-high 15 points in the second quarter to push Valley beat Gladstone 45-36 at Valley Catholic High School on Friday night.
"I wanted to dig deep and give it everything I had because I knew this could be our last game," Jones said. "It's one-and-done. If we lose we're out. There's no second chance for us anymore. I trusted my teammates to do their job. I knew I would do my job, play strong 'D', make plays for them on offense and play together so we could get the win."
The No. 9 Valiants play at No. 8 Madras, a familiar postseason foe, on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the second round of the 4A playoffs. The winner advances to the 4A state tournament at Forest Grove High School next Thursday. Compared to some of Valley's more heralded squads of yesteryear, this 2017-18 team is flying under the radar a bit. Mannen is the only senior on the team and one of the few players with more than a year of varsity experience. Yet, here is Valley, just a win away from the elite eight.
"I don't think a lot of people expected much from us this year," Jones said. "We lost a lot of people coming off of last season. But this shows we have this chemistry and this bond between us that has really helped us. Though not all of us might be the best at basketball, we're all really athletic people and we work together amazingly to bring together games like this."
Gladstone opened the game ablaze burying three straight threes, two from the hands of sophomore Dessie Alvarado to grab a 17-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. It was an edge Gladstone extended to 22-12 with 4 minutes and 52 seconds left in the second quarter as the Gladiator bench and faithful fans behind them brought the noise.
But from the 4:52 mark through the end of the fourth quarter, Valley yielded just 14 points. After Gladstone went up 22-12 in the second quarter, the Valiants didn't give up another first-half hoop. Meanwhile, Snook, with Mannen's every move being closely monitored by the Gladiator defense, dazzled. The junior put on a one-player shooting display, drilling a trio of threes including the game-tying attempt from the top of the key that banked off the glass and dropped through the net to even the game up at 22-22 going into halftime.
"(Snook) always has the hot hand," Mannen said with a smile. "She's done this before where she gets hot and can't miss. Against Banks, she didn't miss. It's becoming a regular thing lately. Katelyn has a great shot all the time. She's the type of player we always want to feed open looks. She always takes good shots whether they go in or not."
As her teammates looked for her and Snook's self-belief soared, the wing's compact, right-handed stroke lifted Valley from the doldrums of a double-digit deficit.
"I think it's really important that we kept our head in the game and kept chipping and chipping," Snook said. "If I'm on, I'm on, I guess. But the momentum from defense really helped us to not only play really good defense after our shots went in but to play really aggressive on offense."
In fact, Gladstone didn't score again until there was 4:28 left in the third as Valley swung a 32-25 lead with four free throws from Callie Kawaguchi, a tough bank shot from Mannen and another Snook bucket, this time from inside the arc. Valley certainly wasn't content going into the halftime break locked up with Gladstone. They were set on vanquishing the Gladiators.
"In the locker room, we told each other 'We have this, the game isn't over, we have to keep building the momentum,'" Jones said. "If we kept rebounding and getting shots in, we knew this game could be ours."
From the said 4:52 mark of the second quarter through almost the midway through the third, Valley scored 20 unanswered points. With the entire Valley boys basketball team in the crowd, firing up the Valiants' student section, the game's atmosphere was stirring, especially as Valley made its move in the second quarter.
"The energy from the gym that the fans brought really helped us a lot," Snook said. "All the positive energy from the fans, our Blue Crew, the bench, the players who were hurt, but still cheered us really gave us some positive vibes."
Mannen said it was head coach John Innes, who just recently won his 300th career game, changing Valley from a box-and-one defense to straight man-to-man that helped propel the Valiants' defensive turnaround. On her own, Jones rendered Campbell completely helpless. But when Gladstone's role players started to play well against Valley's zone, Innes instructed the Valiants to stayed glued to one girl apiece and provide help off Campbell if necessary, which it really wasn't with Jones on the case.
"We've only been practicing man (defense) for a few weeks now and it's coming through as one of our best defenses lately, especially with our energy," Mannen said. "That was the switch that flipped on the defensive end."
Jones was Campbell's kryptonite, denying her the basketball when she tried to come get it for handoffs or wing entry passes, chasing her off droves of set screens, and cutting her off when Campbell had the ball and tried to drive to the cup.
"I was always on my toes, always had my head on a swivel so I didn't lose (Campbell)," Jones said. "Honestly, I didn't want to let my teammates down because I knew (Campbell) was my responsibility. I couldn't let her get by me."
"I'm scared to go against (Jones) in practice," Mannen said with a smile. "She's steady. It's so hard to get her off balance, to ball fake on her. She's so long and lanky and has great feet. She's amazing at keeping people in front of her and if they do get a shot, she's great at blocking out."
Together, and with the great aid of their teammates, Jones and Snook snuffed out Gladstone's flame. Mannen made smart decisions and set her teammates up for hoops, including a baseline jumper from Rachel Justice that gave Valley a 38-30 at the end of three. The Gladiators pulled within 34-30 late in the third and 41-34 in the fourth, but Valley's lead never seemed in real jeopardy. Campbell's only field goal came in the fourth, on a tough spin move inside.
"Sarah took (Campbell) out of the game and kept us in the game," Mannen said. "(Gladstone) was hot at the start but without (Campbell) scoring and providing for them points-wise, it's hard for any team to keep it going the whole game. We came together and had faith in each other and faith in our game, that really pulled us through in the end."
Kawaguchi scored the second-most points for Valley with 10 while Mannen added nine and Jones chipped in five.