Valley Catholic vanquishes Pioneers with tough press

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Molly Danielson puts up a jumper against McLoughlin. The age-old rest versus rust debate at the start of the postseason makes the Valley Catholic girls basketball team a tad uneasy.

Maybe for prestige purposes and potential playoff match-ups, the Valiants would like homecourt advantage that's accompanied by extra time to recoup from a long season. However, Valley — which lost its rhythm during a two-week layoff at the end of the 2015 regular season — in all honesty, would prefer to play in as many postseason games as possible and not lose the edge it worked so hard to build during the regular season.

Competing in their first “play-in” game in nearly half a decade after finishing third in the Cowapa League, the Valiants were crisp and truculent against McLoughlin on Friday, pounding the Pioneers 71-33 with a 32-point third-quarter outburst that was vintage Valley basketball.

No matter how hard a team practices, nothing simulates game speed or the intensity of playoff basketball. And coming off a loss to Seaside on Feb. 23, sophomore point guard Noelle Mannen said Friday's play-in game was needed.

“It was nice to get a win today and go into next week with more momentum,” said Mannen. “Last year it felt like forever before we had a game. Playing today, instead of a week from now, we were able to keep our intensity going.”TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior guard Mady Moore drives to the basket in the fourth quarter of the Valiants win over McLoughlin on Friday.

“It felt an entire year went by before we played in the playoffs last year,” added senior Molly Danielson. “Today kept us sharp. It gives a little more confidence going into the rest of the playoffs. Now we're done with this game and can move forward.”

No. 9 Valley moved to 19-7 overall and will play at No. 8 Madras (17-6) in the first round of the 4A playoffs on Friday. No. 23 McLoughlin ended its season with a 13-12 mark. As a team that relishes going on the road and facing hostile, large crowds, the Valiants will get their wish in a place where basketball is king and the White Buffaloes are the biggest attraction in town. It's a challenge the Valiants are approaching with zeal.

“We're all just really excited,” said Mannen. “I think it's important that we keep an open mind instead of being nervous or intimidated by the energy of the crowd.”

“I think we're going to use it to our advantage,” added Danielson. “When we hear loud noises, whether they're boos or not, we're going at it. I love hearing the crowd. And we have a really good fan base ourselves with our students and parents. That gym is going to be fun.”

Already up 27-15 at the start of the third quarter against McLoughlin, Valley unleashed its hell-bent, fullcourt press on the Pioneers and forced more than a dozen turnovers, many of which were quickly flipped into layups on the other end. Freshman Callie Kawaguchi's quick hands led to three steals that were turned into hoops, Kate Nguyen turned a pair of takeaways into points and Danielson scored seven of her game-high points in the period. TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior forward Jessi Beyer cuts off a McLoughlin ballhandler.

Danielson said defense is the one aspect of the game that Valley “doesn't have down yet,” so to see the Valiants put an opponent into a vortex of mistakes was promising.

“That gives our team confidence because now we can play good defense,” said Danielson.

After finding sporadic success with the press in the first half, Valley shrunk the court with its athleticism and quickness, cutting off the Pioneers' primary ballhandlers and forcing them into mistakes and turnovers.

“At halftime, our coaches told us to stick with the system,” said Mannen. “They told us to keep running and pressing. It really paid off in the third, but it wasn't because of offense. It was because of defense. Everyone kept pressing and getting fastbreak points. That's what really blew it open.”TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Valley Catholic student section celebrates Olivia Langton's three-pointer in the fourth quarter of the Valiantss win over McLoughlin on Friday.

The third-quarter blues that plagued Valley early in the year were negated by the hyperactive hands of Mannen, Kawaguchi, Mady Moore, Jessi Beyer and countless other Valiants who shifted in and out of the contest.

“We had great energy throughout the whole game,” said Moore, who finished with 15 points. “We were really pumped. We were determined to beat them. We really had that adrenaline flowing once we got our defense going. We were everywhere.”

“Everyone gave full effort and energy and kept it high when it wore them down in the third,” added Mannen. “We stuck together emotionally and as a team. Everyone kept a positive attitude. If we do that, it makes us that much better.”

Before long, that 12-point halftime advantage ballooned to 59-21 at the end of three, paving the way head coach Jon Innes to unload his bench and let his subs go off on undermanned McLoughlin. In the fourth, Moore, Nguyen and Olivia Langton all made three-pointers as Valley led by as much as 71-26.

“We all got involved,” said Danielson. “Sometimes we have games where not everybody's hitting shots. Everyone was staying within themselves and the system. All of us were influencing the game, which was fun to see.”

Valley stormed out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter with a fullcourt press that felt like an extra two defenders were on the floor forcing turnovers that led to transition baskets. Valley extended its lead to 16-6 on a Moore “three” to start the third, but McLoughlin didn't go quietly, but rather went on a 7-0 run that brought the Pioneers within 16-13. Yet Valley, a team that doesn't rely on the three-pointer all that often, used two second quarter “threes” apiece from Mannen and Moore, as well as a jumper from Danielson, to extend its lead back to double figures at the half.

Mannen finished the game with seven points and five assists. Kawaguchi, Nguyen and Petra Flemmer had 10 points each. McLoughlin's Brianna Hernandez led the Pioneers with eight points.TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Cathoic senior Rachel Jones reaches for an offensive rebound against McLoughlin on Friday.

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