Valiants vanquish Cougars with their height, skill level

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic post Ben Robbins puts up a jump hook in the first half of the Valiants win over Portland Adventist last week.

It's doesn't take a basketball savant to understand what propels the Valley Catholic boys basketball team this season.

Blessed with four posts standing 6-foot-4 or above who all bring different skill sets and abilities to floor as well as long-limbed, willing defenders who can do a number of athletic feats, the Valiants' bread-and-butter will be based in the post and their effort on the defensive end.

Both high-end attributes were the driving force behind Valley's convincing 61-46 win over Class 3A power Portland Adventist on Dec. 23. All but one of Valley's field goals came outside of 10 feet and 58 of Valley's 61 points came in the paint or at the free throw line.

Not many teams can start 6-foot-5 beasts like Jack Grasberger and 6-foot-9 Vlad Katin and then back them with budding stars such as Colin Haggerty and Ben Robbins. Mix in 6-foot-4 shooting guard Andrew Plambeck and 6-foot-1 point guard Shankar Krishnakumar and Valley has one of the biggest teams in all of the 4A classification. Grasberger led Valley with 12 points while Katin and Plambeck had 10 apiece. Krishnakumar added nine and Robbins had six, all in the first half. To boot, head coach Joel Sobotka was able to play 11 guys against a respectable team and not see any drop off in production.

“We want to run teams because of our depth,” said Valley Catholic senior Avery Jones. “We want to make them tired, but the good thing is we have enough guys, so we won't get tired. We want to use that to our advantage.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholics Vijay Parthasarathy drives baseline in the first half versus Portland Adventist.

“Our depth is different than a lot of teams,” said Krishnakumar. “We have 10 or 11 guys who played today. We can play different defenses and mix it up and make it hard for other teams.”

Portland Adventist scored 11 points in the first two minutes of action, but only scored nine more the rest of the first half as Valley's defense got into the Cougars' kitchen and created an uncomfortable atmosphere to try and execute offensively against. And, while Valley's defense turned off the Cougars' water supply, the Valiants went inside to their well of post scorers such as Robbins, Jones and Grasberger who binged on single coverage on the block and utilized their height advantage down low. Krishnakumar's three in the second quarter was Valley's only field goal from outside of 10 feet. Every other hoop came off drives to the goal or post feeds inside the paint. Krishnakumar seemed to ignite Valley with two aggressive drives to the basket in the first quarter that awoke the Valiants and reminded them to take the ball to basket and not settle for outside casts.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Avery Jones tries to duck under a Portland Adventist defender.

Jones finished old-fashioned three-point play, then Robbins drained an over-the-left-shoulder jump hook, 26-17 and Jones flipped a steal into a score to go up 28-17. Krishnakumar three from the left angle after a timely Vijay Parthasarathy drive made it 33-20 at the half.

Plus, after a relatively uneven beginning the Valiants locked in and locked up the Cougars with their various zone defenses and harassing traps in the halfcourt. With Jones wreaking havoc at the top of Sobotka's 1-3-1 zone and supple athletes like Plambeck and Parthasarathy playing the passing lanes perfectly, Valley was able to turn Portland Adventist over at a high clip.

“Avery is a machine up there, he's getting deflections all the time,” said Krishnakumar. “But, we have guys with really long arms. We can really get after people and make it tough to see passes and things.”

“We love playing zone,” added Jones. “It's a lot of fun getting deflections and steals and then head the other way for easy lay-ins. I just try to get my hands up and get as many deflections as possible.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior guard Joey Braun brings the ball upcourt against Portland Adventist.

Grasberger scored three baskets to start the third and Plambeck added five point on old-fashioned three-point play and a backdoor layup that made it 44-30. 12 of Valley's 13 third quarter points originated in the paint with the other score coming from Plambeck punctuating his old-fashioned three-point play at the free throw line. Valley led 46-37 at the end of the third.

“We definitely had the height advantage over them,” said Jones. “We have a bunch of tall kids. We have a height advantage at basically every position, so we want to use that.”

Krishnakumar said Valley's gameplan revolves getting the ball to the bigs because that opens up the Valiant guards for clean looks from the outside or clears away driving lanes to attack.

In the fourth Katin cleaned up a loose rebound and coolly floated home a leaner, then Valley turned a turnover into a Haggerty free throw to give Valley a 53-41 lead with 2:52 to go in the fourth. Katin scored eight straight points at one point in the fourth as Valley finished off the Cougars in strong style.

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