Defense wins games, offense determines by how much.

It’s a memorable mantra coined by head coach Joel Sobotka that’s driven the offensively gifted Valley Catholic boys’ basketball team from the dog days of early November through the playoff battles of March.

Generate stops, scuttle opponents into pandemonium, grind them into submission, and the offense will take over from there. The tried-and-true missive worked repeatedly throughout a successful, 23-win regular season, as the Valiants roared to the 3A’s top ranking and top overall seed.

And, Sobotka’s unwavering message rang true again Thursday, on the state’s biggest backdrop at the 3A state tournament, with every potential state title threat getting a nice, long look at Valley’s savoir faire from the Marshfield High wooden bleachers.

Facing a Creswell team in the 3A quarterfinals that averaged close to 70 points a game during the regular season, Valley bucked the Bulldogs on defense, holding the PacWest champs to just 36 points. The offense, naturally, came in tow, as the Valiants rolled to a 53-36 win.

“Defense finished the game out for us,” said junior JD Menkens. “We shut them down defensively. That’s what our goal was, to win this with defense. Going into games, we focus on the other team’s best players and try to take away what they’re good at. When you stop teams from doing what they like, you stop them from scoring. That’s a big part of us.”

“It all starts on defense,” added junior forward Drew VanderZanden. “It begins on that end, and then we let the offense that care of itself. We wanted to come out from the beginning and set the tone.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic junior Drew VanderZanden was big off the bench against Creswell, scoring six points and dishing out three assists.

Highlight-reel finishes

Valley pounced on the Bulldogs early, jumping to an 11-0 lead in the first quarter. Leaning on their aptitude for turning teams over and quickly translating those mistakes into highlight-reel finishes, the Valiants forced eight early Bulldog turnovers.

Menkens smoothly picked Creswell’s point guard’s pocket, then gave it up to Jarrett Gray, who capitalized with a lay-up to go up 3-0. Gray set up a Kazuma Lane three from the right corner, and Menkens banked in a short jumper to push the lead to 8-0.

Then, after Gray took an outlet pass on the break, the all-league point guard found a rim-running Gabe Taylor with an underhanded scoop lob at the front of the cup that the University of Portland commit flushed with two hands. With 3:30 left in the first quarter, Valley had already thrown the first jaw-rattling volley at the reeling Bulldogs.

“That definitely helped us get our nerves out right away,” said Menkens. “The first round...we didn’t really know what to expect. But, we came out and stuck it to them.”

Valley kept the heat turned up with another dunk from Taylor after a sweet find by VanderZanden. Carter Buuck came off the bench and buried a three from the right wing, and Taylor put home another lay-up after a dish from Gray to go up 20-7 at the end of the first quarter.

“I don’t think they were expecting that,” said Gray. “(Creswell) is a really good team, so I think that surprised them a little bit.”

The Valiants received their expected work from Gray (four first-half assists) and Taylor (13 first-half points), who had their fingerprints all over the first half as Valley rolled out to a 33-14 lead. Yet, the surprising star of the contest was VanderZanden, who scored six points and dished out three dimes as Valley’s sixth man.

The first man off the Valiants’ bench came in with energy and alertness, completing passes from Gray and Taylor, while setting up the superstars with easy looks at the rim. The junior forward found Lane with a pocket pass versus Creswell’s 1-3-1 zone, then went high to kiss a righty lay-up off the window to go up 30-14.

VanderZanden finished the game with eight points, five rebounds and three assists.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior post Gabe Taylor scored 25 points and grabbed 15 boards against Creswell.

“I know I don’t need to go in and score,” said VanderZanden. “I take pride in setting good screens, getting rebounds and assists. I can score if I’m open, but I like getting good assists. If I do that, I’ll help the team out more than just making plays and shooting.”

Turning up the pressure

Known for running to the three-point line on the fast break and jacking up triples from anywhere inside the halfcourt line, Creswell couldn’t cook up the same efficiency from downtown or heap up points the way he’s accustomed to. Valley’s broadened 2-3 zone with Menkens and Gray at the top and Alex Butz, Taylor and Lane on the bottom compressed the Bulldogs’ shooters to just 4-26 (15.4 percent) from three-point zone. Plus, Valley held the normally flammable Creswell to just 27.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“(Sobotka) always says turnovers end up in lay-ins,” said VanderZanden. “He wants our hands up and getting lots of deflections. We pressured them really well and didn’t let them get the threes they wanted. Coach talks about us having ‘Valiant D’ and being relentless competitors. That’s what we have every game.”

“We knew they wanted to push it, so we tried to take that away from them,” added Gray. “We wanted to get steals, then execute and score on offense.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Valley Catholic senior point guard Jarrett Gray goes up high for a right-handed finish in the first quarter of the Valiants quarterfinal win over Creswell.

Valley was quicker to the ball and more athletic in the open floor than Creswell, especially when it came to Taylor and Gray. The dynamic duo combined for all 10 of the Valiants’ third-quarter points, breaking the Bulldogs’ 2-2-1 press by themselves at times. Throwing baseball passes over the top, or driving straight through the teeth of the defense, Gray and Taylor helped extend Valley’s lead to 43-28 at the end of the third.

Taylor was a monster, going 8-15 from the field for 21 points to go along with 15 rebounds. Gray played a cerebral floor game with eight points and seven assists to just four turnovers.

To have a chance at winning a state title, it’s believed a team’s superstars need to play at an all-star level while lifting their teammates’ games around them.

Yet, Gray said he and Taylor don’t feel any extra need to force the issue or play out of character. They’re confident in the ability of VanderZanden, Menkens, Butz and Lane and want them to play their games without hesitance.

“Everyone’s been playing well and stepping up lately,” said Gray. “So, I don’t think there’s an extra burden on us. We just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing all year. We have to let the game come to us and not do too much.”

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