COWAPA BOYS BASKETBALL: Valley Catholic 64, Tillamook 51

Tiny Tilly has proven over the last couple of years that they will be taken lightly at your peril.

With upset wins over Banks in last season’s 4A state quarterfinals and a win over 2nd-ranked Seaside last week, the Tillamook Cheesemakers went into Valley Catholic Thursday night on a mission to prevent the Valiants from clinching a state berth.

The Valiants did not accomplish their ultimate goal, but it was nothing to do with them or Tillamook as they dispatched the Cheesemakers 64-51 on senior night. Unfortunately for the Valiants, in the battle of the top two teams in the OSAA 4A power rankings, Seaside defeated Banks 66-55, meaning the Gulls will tie Valley Catholic for second place in the league, but claim the league’s second seed after sweeping the Valiants during the regular season. Due to their high ranking, Seaside earns an automatic berth into the state tournament, while Valley Catholic will have to win a Cowapa League playoff game on Tuesday and another play-in game to reach the tourney.

Banks had already clinched the first boys basketball league title in school history. Even with the loss to Seaside, the 22-2 Braves will hold the top spot in the rankings with Seaside second. The state’s toughest basketball league once again, the Cowapa’s number-three team, Valley Catholic, is ranked fourth overall behind Far West League champion Marshfield of Coos Bay.

Tillamook may be vertically-challenged without a single player listed over 6-1, but the Cheesemakers are not lacking for experience, starting a lineup comprised of all seniors, including 5-9 Ian Collett, one of the state’s top-scoring shooting guards. Collett scored just two points in the first period, but the sharp-shooting ‘Mooks got a pair of treys from Nathan Abbott and another three from Ramon Flores to take a 13-10 lead with two minutes to go in the first period. The Valiants started fast, but missed nine straight shots and a pair of free throws at one point in the period.

Despite Valley Catholic towering over Tillamook with 6-6 seniors Jack Grasberger and Ben Robbins joining 6-5 senior Andrew Plambeck in the starting lineup, the teams were neck-and-neck through most of the first half with two ties and seven lead changes. A pair of Collett threes either side of a trifecta by Anthany Taylor swung the lead back to Tillamook after the Valiants took an 18-15 lead early in the second period. The teams began trading buckets with Collett hitting a pair of free throws to give Tillamook its last lead at 26-25 with a little over three minutes left in the half. From there, Tillamook’s pace slowed while Valley Catholic just kept pounding the rock inside. The Valiants scored on seven straight trips down the floor and connected on 8-of-10 from the field in the period, pulling out to a 34-28 lead before a Charlie Jenck layup just before the halftime buzzer brought the Mooks to within four at the break.

All but six of Valley Catholic’s points at halftime were scored in the paint. But the second period was a mere prelude to a dominant third quarter as the Valiants scored on nine of their first ten possessions. Daniel Pruitt scored eight of his team-high 17 points in the period as the Valiants stormed out to a 55-35 lead before Collett drained the third of his four threes. The Mooks continued a run early in the fourth quarter with two Collett freebies followed by another trifecta by the All-Cowapa guard. Valley Catholic had turned the ball over only four times in the first three quarters, but coughed it up three times in their first four possessions in the final period as the Mooks hung in the ballgame, pulling to within 55-43 with 6:25 to go. But the Cheesemakers were unable to get any more threes to fall against Valley’s extended 1-3-1 zone and the Valiants effectively drained the clock on offense to keep Tillamook at bay the rest of the way.

Valley Catholic shot 52-percent for the game (25-48), while holding Tillamook under 40-percent in every quarter as the ‘Mooks shots 38-percent for the game. Tillamook outscored Valley by 15 points from beyond the arc, but connected on only 31-percent (8-26). Collett led all scorers with 24 points. Grasberber came back from a scary fall in the first quarter to score 10 points for the Valiants. Pruitt also led Valley Catholic in rebounding with six as the Valiants outboarded the Cheesemakers 35-24 with an 11-6 edge on the offensive glass. Each team turned the ball over ten times.

Tillamook (5-5 Cowapa League, 14-9 overall) will host Scappoose on Monday in a loser-out Cowapa League playoff game. The winner will travel to Valley Catholic (7-3, 18-6) on Tuesday to play for the league’s third seed to the postseason.