Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Kazuma Lane made two clutch free throws in the fourth quarter to help the Valiants take out Hidden Valley.

Valley Catholic senior Kazuma Lane said he and his teammates have been practicing free throws quite a bit of late.

That proved to be a very good thing for the Valiants last Friday night when Lane stepped to the line with 4.8 seconds remaining and calmly knocked down a pair of free throws, giving Valley Catholic a 36-34 victory over visiting Hidden Valley.

The OSAA Class 4A play-in game win propelled the Valiants (16-10) into tomorrow’s round of 16, where they will make the long trek southwest to Coos Bay and take on fourth-ranked Marshfield (19-6).

“Those were the most nervous free throws I’ve ever shot,” said Lane, who finished the game with seven points.”I didn’t want my season to end.”

In a back and forth defensive contest, in which neither team lead by more than five points, it was Valley Catholic that made the plays it needed in the final minutes, on both ends of the court.

“We knew coming into this game, it was going to be a hard-fought battle,” Valiants senior guard JD Menkens said. “They had a four-hour bus ride to concentrate and think about what they were going to do. It went down to the wire because we were both playing so tough.”

The Mustangs (15-13), from Grants Pass, took a 34-32 lead on a basket from senior point guard Mike Hults with about a minute and a half left, but it was all Valley Catholic from there.

First, Colin Haggerty banked in a short shot off the glass to tie the score with 1:15 remaining. Then, Menkens came up with a big defensive play when he forced a Hidden Valley offensive foul with just under a minute to go.

“That’s how it’s been through the year,” Menkens added. “We win with our defense.”

From that point, the Valiants ran down the clock for a final shot. Lane misfired on an open three-pointer, but Valley Catholic hustled to come up with an offensive rebound. The ball found its way back into the hands of Lane, who didn’t hesitate to drive hard to the hoop where he was fouled.

“We had a set (play) we ran to get Kaz a good look and we got the offensive rebound, which was huge,” said Valiants Head Coach Joel Sobotka.

The Mustangs still had a chance to tie, or win with a three pointer, but the Valley Catholic defense came up big again, forcing a Hidden Valley miss as the final buzzer sounded.

“We did a good job not fouling on that play,” Sobotka added. “We didn’t want to give them a layup, but I don’t want to give them two free throws there either. We did a good job of making it a tough shot.”

Haggerty, who also knocked down a baseline jumper early in the fourth quarter and evened the game at 32 with a three down the stretch, scored a team-high 13 points.

“I was pretty fired up,” he said. “Coach was saying to get stops on defense and the offense would come.”

The sophomore guard hit five of the six shots he took Friday.

“He’s a quiet kid, but he’s got a fire inside,” Sobotka said about Haggerty. “He plays hard and gives us another weapon. Defenses can’t just focus on Kaz.”

The Valiants jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, but the Mustangs responded with an 8-0 run for a 10-7 edge at the end of the first quarter.

A pair of three pointers from Menkens and two buckets in the paint from senior Drew VanderZanden helped Valley Catholic take its biggest lead of the evening, 22-17 at halftime.

“We knew we had to put everything in if we wanted this win and to continue our season,” said Menkens.

Kristoff Oswald (four points) and junior Shankar Krishnakumar (two points) rounded out the scoring for the Valiants.

“Win and advance,” Sobotka concluded. “That’s what March basketball is all about.”

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