TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior power forward Molly Danielson will play in her third straight state tournament after helping the Valiants clobber Junction City on Saturday.

For the past two weeks, the Valley Catholic girls’ basketball team stewed.

Faced with a half-month layoff after clinching a bye in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, the Valiants had ample time to sift through all the state-tournament clinching possibilities, the chances of a loss, and the uncertainty of playing its first 4A postseason opponent, Junction City.

When the moment came for the Valiants to finally hit the floor on Saturday, Valley was eager and committed not to just dominating the outmanned Tigers, but to make a declaration doing it.

Fueled by its famed fullcourt pressure defense and determined work on the boards, Valley strolled to a 57-26 win over the Tigers to clinch its fourth straight trip to the state tourney, only this time it’ll be against a higher level of competition. Valley plays Seaside in the 4A quarterfinals at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at Liberty High School.

“That’s a statement game,” said Valley Catholic senior guard Emily McCloud. “We’ve made a statement all season. We’ve been waiting for this since the summer. Our goal was to make it to state and we’re still going.”

For having a full two weeks off, Valley looked more rested and refreshed than rusty and out of practice.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior guard Emily McCloud said the Valiants wanted to make a defensive statement against Junction City and shut down the Tigers defensively.

The time away gave the Valiants sufficient time to tweak the little things in their individual games as well as iron out any wrinkles that may have cropped up after going 8-2 in Cowapa League play. Valley was sharp from the opening tip, with McCloud and freshman point guard Grace Mannen each knocking down three-pointers and Molly Danielson chipping in four points, all off the offensive glass.

“I think those 14 days were just what we needed,” said Valley Catholic senior Kaylynn Bush. “We had our ups and downs during that time but we stayed together, played together and really connected. We knew this was going to be a business trip, just here at home. We knew what we had to do and we executed it really well.”

All of Valley’s pent-up energy kept pouring out in the second quarter with Danielson banging inside for an old-fashioned three-point play, Bailey McDevitt hitting a “three” and Petra Flemmer knocking in an jumper of her own. McCloud’s spin inside and subsequent shot off the glass gave Valley a 21-8 lead midway through the second quarter. Flemmer’s two free throws extended the Valiants’ lead to 31-12 at halftime.

“We were pumped to play today,” said Danielson. “This was the longest week of our lives. We were waiting so long to play and then everyone on the court released it. We were running in transition. Everyone was running the floor. We were passing. The energy really came out.”

Valley Catholic pulverized Junction City in the first half with painful defensive pressure that jolted Junction City and took the Tigers totally out of their offensive flow.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic sophomore guard Petra Flemmer fights for space along the baseline against Junction City.

“Our goal over those two weeks was to bring our best defensive energy and I think we practiced that hard and brought it today,” said McCloud. “Everyone brought their best defensive game. We knew when we had to be in ‘help.’ We knew when we had to be in ‘deny.’ Our on-ball pressure was incredible. Everybody brought it 100 percent. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Using the baseline and sidelines as extra defenders, the Valiants swarmed the court with defensive activity, turning the Tigers over time and time again with the pressure that head coach John Innes has made famous for years.

“We just dominated,” said Bush. “We communicated well. We moved our feet well. Overall, it was really great. It was win or go home and we came out here with our 100 percent defense.”

Danielson scored seven consecutive points in the third quarter to extend Valley’s lead to 40-16. Flemmer hit a “three” and McCloud floated home a jumpshot to give the Valiants a 48-16 edge at the end of the third.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic freshman point guard Grace Mannen led the Valiants five assists against Junction City.

“Our man defense is a weapon we can use,” added Danielson. “We’ve worked really hard on our fullcourt defense and it showed today.”

As Danielson pointed out, each member of Valley’s senior core except for McCloud — who played at St. Mary’s Academy last year — has played in three state championship games and encountered numerous big games with high pressure stakes. And Liberty High is in Valley’s backyard, as opposed to traveling down to Coos Bay as it had for previous 3A tournaments.

“I can’t wait to get to Liberty,” said McCloud. “I love the small school atmosphere that 4A brings. There are so many fans out here. I wouldn’t want to do this with another team.”

Danielson said being patient and taking care of the basketball on offense will be important as Valley takes on its Cowapa counterpart Seaside in the first round. Valley’s defensive is always critical as was the case the second time the Valiants and Seagulls locked horns during league play. The two squads split the season series with a win apiece.

“We’ve been on top, so we know exactly what it takes,” said Bush. “It’s 100 percent heart and desire. The best team is going to come out on top. Once you hit Liberty, all the teams are good. We definitely have what it takes. We’re ready for Seaside.”

“We know we can beat Seaside, and I think we’re going to bring even more effort than we did today, if that’s even possible,” said McCloud. “Our defensive intensity is going to be right there again.”

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