ELLENSBURG - For the second consecutive year, the Sunnyside Christian High School boys basketball team has taken the long road to the State 'B' basketball tournament in Spokane.
It was an emotion-filled road for the Knights, who had to win back-to-back, loser-out Regional playoff games in Ellensburg this past weekend to qualify for the State tournament.
The Knights (16-9) begin their quest for a State title this Wednesday at the Spokane Arena against Wilbur-Creston, at 2 p.m. Wilbur-Creston is 19-7 on the season, entering the State tournament fresh off a 60-48 loss to Republic for the top two seeds to State out of the Bi-County League.
Sunnyside Christian is in the same portion of the bracket at State as Chief Leschi (18-5) vs. Wahkiakum (21-2). Chief Leschi lost in a seeding game to Neah Bay this past weekend 80-56 to finish fourth out of the Tri-District area. Wahkiakum, which is out of the Pacific League's Southwest District, defeated Willapa Valley 58-53 this past weekend for a top seed to State.
To get to this week's State tournament, the Knights won two hotly contested battles against Bridgeport and Manson at Ellensburg High School to grab a fourth seed out of Regionals.
Friday night, the Knights pulled away from Bridgeport in the second half to win 63-46.
"Friday night's game was very intense," said Sunnyside Christian Coach Dean Wagenaar.
Saturday afternoon, Sunnyside Christian fended off a 3-point barrage from Manson to win 52-48 to snag a spot at the State 'B' tournament.
Bridgeport point guard Adolfo Hernandez caused nothing but problems for the Knights in the first half Friday night. Hernandez scored 16 of the Mustangs' 32 first-half points. Hernandez had three 3-pointers in the first half.
"He probably created 10 of the other 16 points," said Wagenaar.
The Knights trailed 32-29 at the break.
"We missed some shots and some free throws," said Wagenaar of the reason for the first-half deficit.
Wagenaar said the Knights ended up being spread too far out with their zone defense, which allowed Hernandez to do what he wanted.
However, the Knights remedied the Hernandez problem in the second half, as the Mustang senior had only 2 points. Wagenaar switched his Knights to a 3-2 zone defense, which took away the quickness of Hernandez.
"We shut down their offense," said Wagenaar.
Sunnyside Christian ended the third quarter with a 20-6 run to take the lead for good. Chad Den Boer was a one-man wrecking crew for the Knights, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the third quarter. Den Boer had two 3-pointers and went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the third period. Andrew Schutt also had a 3-point play in the quarter.
The Knights took the final period of play 14-8 to get the win and move into Saturday afternoon's game against Manson, which finished second out of the North Central Washington League with a 17-6 record.
Wagenaar said Manson is a quality team. The Trojans led the entire way of their District title game for an automatic berth to State against Waterville, which is the top ranked 'B' boys team in the State, before losing 44-41.
In their 52-48 victory over Manson, the Knights had a hard time containing Jake Wisdom, who had three of the Trojans' eight first half 3-pointers.
The big quarter for the Knights against Manson was the second period. Sunnyside Christian outscored the Trojans 23-13 to take a 33-25 lead into the break. Sunnyside Christian had a huge hoop from Derek Van de Graaf with slightly more than a minute left in the opening half, which was followed by Den Boer hitting four three throws down the stretch to give the Knights an eight-point lead.
Wagenaar said the Knights kind of had to pick their poison in the first half. He said the Trojans have several good 3-point shooters, which makes it hard to defend against.
"I thought we played hard," said Wagenaar.
Wagenaar also credits Derek DeVries with having three consecutive baskets that helped turned the momentum of the game in the second quarter. The Knights also scored 8 points from the free throw line in the second quarter.
Manson looked as if it was going to pull off the win with a fiery fourth quarter. The Trojans outscored Sunnyside Christian 18-10 in the quarter, as the Knights had some calls go against them towards the end of the game.
The Knights took good care of the ball, which Wagenaar felt was key. Going into the fourth quarter, Sunnyside Christian had just two turnovers. The Knights had five in the fourth quarter.
Schutt was phenomenal from the free throw line Saturday afternoon, hitting 11-of-14 free throws, including going nine in a row at one point.
This marks the sixth consecutive year Sunnyside Christian has qualified for the State 'B' tournament.
"The kids are pumped to be there," said Wagenaar.
1 2 3 4 T
SCHS 16 13 20 14 63
Bridgeport 13 19 6 8 46
Scoring: SCHS-Chad Den Boer 22, Andrew Schutt 14, Jordan Haak 9, Derek DeVries 7, Josh Buescher 4, Derek Van de Graaf 3, Matt Haak 2.
Bridgeport-Adolfo Hernandez 18.
Rebounds: Andrew Schutt 4, Keith Bos 4.
Assists: Andrew Schutt 7, Chad Den Boer 3.
Steals: Andrew Schutt 7, Chad Den Boer 3.
1 2 3 4 T
SCHS 10 23 9 10 52
Manson 12 13 5 18 48
Scoring: SCHS-Andrew Schutt 16.