Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior wing Kazuma Lane makes his way to the basket in the first quarter of the Valiants win over Banks on Friday.

The Valley Catholic boys basketball team’s offensive manifesto goes something like this:

When all five players are in on the action, touching the basketball and tasting success, the game is at it its most euphoric. And when the Valiants marry that ball movement with their dog-eat-dog defense as Valley did on Friday night against Banks, there’s no telling what the defending state champs can do in the Cowapa League.

Passing the basketball with aplomb and barricading the Braves (1-3 in Cowapa play, 5-12 overall) with pitiless halfcourt defense, Valley (2-2, 10-7) doled out six assists on eight made field goals and held Banks without a hoop for five straight minutes in the fourth quarter to hammer out a 45-36 win at Valley Catholic High.

“No one was selfish out there at all,” said senior post David Baglai. “It was a complete team mentality. No one was trying to force anything up. Everyone was just playing together. It felt fun. Everyone was excited. The bench was electric. It was all fun out there.”

“It helped us when all of our guys were making efforts to score and putting up points,” added senior wing JD Menkens. “We weren’t wasting time when we got the ball, taking dribbles or anything. We got the ball, looked for our teammates, passed it and with that, we got open shots and hit them. If we knock those down, we’ll be tough to beat.”

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior wing Avery Jones flies to the basket for two in the first half of the Valiants win over Banks at home on Friday.

Baglai was instrumental in the fourth quarter with his team trailing 30-26 after Banks closed the third quarter on a 12-3 run. The senior post scored Valley’s first nine points of the final period, but he did so in a completely selfless way, with his teammates setting him up in ideal positions to score. Baglai’s go-ahead three-pointer from the left corner came after each of the four Valiants on the floor had caught the ball and reversed it around the perimeter. Additionally, Baglai’s baseline floater came after Colin Haggerty slid a pass to him inside to give Valley a 35-33 edge.

“I was open and my team got me shots,” said Baglai. “I was just thankful for guys passing me the ball and that we came out with a ‘W.’”

Drew VanderZanden made one of two free throws with 4:11 left in the fourth and was followed by layups from Kazuma Lane and Avery Jones to go up 40-33 with 1:41 remaining. Then, VanderZanden stepped in front a reckless Brave driver and took a charge to wipe away a potential scoring opportunity. And if that wasn’t enough, the senior captain grabbed a defensive rebound and threw it down the court to Lane who outraced Banks and put the nail in the Braves’ coffin 42-33.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Drew VanderZanden tries to pass through a Banks double team in the first half of the Valiants win over the Braves on Friday.

VanderZanden’s presence defensively in the paint, along with Menkens’ on-ball doggedness and a team-wide dedication to getting into Banks, spearheaded a dominant defensive effort in the fourth. Banks’ first field goal of the quarter came with 44.2 seconds remaining in the contest.

“We came out with a lot of energy, and with that, we also worked as a team on defense,” said Menkens. “We communicated a lot better. We had to talk and let each know what was going on. We didn’t let off any open shots or drives.”

“We were just getting after it,” added sophomore Joey Braun. “Everyone was down in a stance, hands ready, talking.”

Banks focused its defensive effort on shutting down Lane, knowing the senior could explode making “threes” from the outside or barreling his way inside for baskets. So the Braves constantly changed up their defensive schemes, sometimes going zone, man, or box-and-one on Lane to try and confuse Valley into making mistakes and turnovers. Valley, however, wasn’t having any of that.

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic's Colin Haggerty puts up a jump shot in the first quarter against Banks.

Coached up by head coach Joel Sobotka and prepared by diligent scouting reports, the Valiants handled Banks’ ceaseless switch-ups with poise and effective passing that annulled the Braves’ tactics. For example, with all the attention centered on Lane, Menkens was able to knock home back-to-back “threes” to start the third quarter. Junior guard Shankar Krishnakumar also buried an open look from the outside after Lane set a screen that took out two Braves.

“Whatever they ran at us, we were ready for,” said Menkens.

The very same fundamental principles Sobotka stresses on a daily basis — play unselfishly on offense, make the extra pass and hard on defense — were on full display in the fourth quarter for the Valiants, who are currently third in the Cowapa. It was the sort of win Valley needed, Menkens said, to start a win streak as the season’s final month unfolds.

“Our next six games, we’re going to play as hard as we can to try and win that league championship,” said Menkens. “We’re not just here to be in the bottom of the league. We’re coming out hard to challenge each team. Every game in Cowapa has been within a couple points. It’s so even that you have to play your best every night if you want to get a win.”

“I see this as the next step,” said Baglai. “We have goals and the first goal is to win the next game. After that, hopefully we can a league title and get into the state tournament.”

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