WAPATO - Buoyed by an overflowing, emotionally charged crowd, the Wapato Wolfpack rose to the occasion last Friday and dealt the visiting Sunnyside High School boys basketball team a 66-57 defeat.
A victory by Sunnyside could have given the Grizzlies the No. 4 seed into this week's District tournament. Instead, Sunnyside enters District play as the Mid-Valley League's No. 6 team. As such, the Grizzlies will have to travel to Ellensburg this Tuesday to face the Bulldogs in a loser-out affair.
Sunnyside entered last Friday's final game of the regular season tied with Wapato in the conference standings. The win by the Wolfpack (5-7, 10-10) moved them into a tie with Selah (5-7, 11-8) for the No. 4 spot in the league standings. The Grizzlies slipped to 4-8 in league play with the defeat, 8-12 overall.
Friday's loss gives Sunnyside the unenviable task of taking on Ellensburg on the Bulldogs' home court. The opening round District tournament game, slated for this Tuesday, will be a challenge for the Grizzlies, to say the least. Ellensburg is coming off a two-point win over the state's third ranked 3A team, the Hanford Falcons (10-2, 18-2).
In the two previous match-ups with Ellensburg this season, Sunnyside lost a 59-54 battle at home back in early January, and succumbed to the Bulldogs by a 57-51 score on the road two weeks ago.
"Ellensburg has pretty good balance," said Sunnyside Coach Steve Urrutia. "And they're playing really well right now.
"One of the keys to stopping them will be slowing down Riley Sivak," he continued. "We have to keep him in check.
"Also, those times we can't get into our fastbreak, we need to run our halfcourt offense well," Urrutia added.
Sunnyside could have avoided the challenging road trip to Ellensburg this Tuesday had the Grizzlies taken care of business in Wapato last Friday. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they played in front of a packed house that gave the Wolfpack the lift it needed to get by Sunnyside.
"The Wapato gym is pretty big and it was just about full to the rafters," said Urrutia. "It was senior night for Wapato, plus it was the night of their annual bean feed, which always brings out a big crowd.
"Emotionally, they were already 10 points better than us before we even got started.
"We didn't handle the situation as well as we could have. We allowed the crowd to get into the game," he said.
Wapato utilized its partisan crowd by springing out to 23-8 lead, eventually taking a 36-24 advantage into intermission.
Fourteen of the Wolves' 23 first quarter points came off Sunnyside turnovers. The Grizzlies coughed up the ball 10 times in the opening period, finishing the game with 22 turnovers in all.
Sunnyside fought back after halftime, closing to within 45-42 in the closing stages of the third quarter. Leading the comeback charge for the Grizzlies were seniors Reid Schilperoort and Jake Thomas. Schilperoort pumped in 10 of his 16 points in the third period, with Thomas chipping in 6 of his 16 that frame, as well.
Down the stretch, however, Wapato outscored the Grizzlies by a 18-15 margin to account for the final 66-57 score. A relative unknown, Curtis Hata, spearheaded Wapato's victory. Hata scorched the net for a game high 21 points.
"We weren't expecting those kind of numbers from him," Urrutia said of Hata.
The Wolves also got a 16-point effort from Brandon Brown.
Wapato's leading scorer this season, Marshal Juarez, was held to 6 points. Juarez was relegated to the bench late in the third quarter when he injured his ankle while attempting to block a shot.
Besides the 16 points apiece from Schilperoort and Thomas, who also came away with 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively, Sunnyside received a 12-point effort from senior Cody Heckert. Also, junior Derrick Simmons chipped in 9 points for the Grizzlies.
In an unrelated incident that has created a bit of a flap, concerning comments that were reported by another newspaper, Urrutia said his statement was in reference to the players who have stepped up and filled the void.
In looking ahead to the postseason, Urrutia said he and the Grizzlies are hoping to give Ellensburg all it can handle.
"We want more than just one game at District. We want our season to continue."
Sunnyside 8 16 18 15 -57
Wapato 23 13 12 19 -66
Sunnyside-Cantu 2, Simmons 9, Heckert 12, L. Schilperoort 2, Crimp 0, R. Schilperoort 16, Thomas 16, Montelongo 0, Engel 0.
Wapato-hata 21, J. Herrera 8, Smiscon 8, Roa 0, Juarez 6, Clements 0, B. Herrera 2, Brown 16, Vivette 5.