The beauty of the sport of basketball is that one never knows who will step up on any given night. And on a night when things weren't going too well for the Sunnyside Christian High School boys basketball team, it was Matt Haak who proved to be the team's savior.
Haak was pivotal in the Knights' thrilling, come-from-behind 42-40 overtime victory at home this past Friday night against Riverside Christian. The following night at home, the Knights fought off a determined Trout Lake squad, winning 68-49.
The game Friday night was pivotal in the league standings, as the Knights basically turned the run for the Greater Columbia 'B' League northern division title from a three-team race to two teams with its win over the Crusaders. Barring a couple of far-fetched scenarios, the Greater Columbia 'B' League northern division title should be decided on Tuesday, Feb. 8, when Sunnyside Christian travels to Mabton.
The sad part for Riverside Christian fans is that the Crusaders lost despite playing an outstanding game.
"Riverside has seen us play so many times," said Sunnyside Christian Coach Dean Wagenaar. "They scouted us so thoroughly. Their kids have good match-ups against ours."
The first half was dictated very much by emotion, which Wagenaar said cost the Knights in their lone loss earlier in the year to Riverside Christian.
The Crusaders mimicked every move the top two stars for the Knights, Chad Den Boer and Jordan Haak, made in the first half. Riverside Christian also did a noteworthy job of keeping the Knights on the perimeter, denying inside lanes to the usually explosive Sunnyside Christian players.
"Riverside just plays very, very good defense," said Wagenaar.
The Crusaders took it to the Knights on their home floor in the first quarter, winning the opening period 17-6.
"We had our opportunities to score in the first quarter," said Wagenaar. "We just didn't finish at the hoop."
The Knights missed five shots in the paint in the first quarter.
Riverside Christian's Garrett Neiffer added to the excitement for the Crusaders in the first quarter, hitting a 3-pointer right at the buzzer.
While Neiffer had that dynamic shot to end the first quarter, it was the play of Chris Pynch that surprised Wagenaar. The younger brother of Riverside Christian standout Trevor Pynch hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter.
The Crusaders looked as if they were going to blow the game open in the second quarter, leading 19-6 and 25-12 at two different points before the end of the first half.
Trevor Pynch exploded on the Knights in the second quarter, scoring 8 of the Crusaders' 10 points in the quarter.
The Knights went on a 6-0 run to finish out the half before Chris Pynch put in a couple of free throws on a late foul call to give the Crusaders a 27-18 lead at the break.
Matt Haak, though, would seize the moment for the Knights in the second half.
There was a scenario in the third quarter when Haak had two clear drives to the basket that sparked the Knights and made the Crusaders rethink their defensive set. Those two buckets by Haak sparked the rest of his team, which looked all but done in the first half.
"Matt did a good job," said Wagenaar. "Matt has got the quickness."
Wagenaar also noted the play of Den Boer in the second half.
The Knights ran a trap defense in the second half that caused the Crusaders some fits. Den Boer sat at the bottom of the trap, denying anyone who came into the lane. Den Boer had two big blocks in the second half.
"Chad did a great job on anyone coming into the lane," said Wagenaar.
Matt Haak came up big in the fourth quarter. With 7:25 left in the game, he cut the deficit to 36-32. Den Boer then followed up with a 3-pointer to put the Knights within one. Matt Haak put the cherry on the top with 4:55 left, nailing a 3-pointer that tied the game at 38. Neither team scored in the last 4:55 of the game to send it into overtime.
In overtime, the Crusaders were stellar on defense. Riverside Christian kept the Knights away from the basket for the first three minutes of the extra session.
The end came for the Crusaders when Andrew Schutt hit a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left. Riverside Christian came right back and tied the score at 40 with a bucket. Then with 5.3 seconds, Jordan Haak, who finished with 13 points, broke free of a pesky Riverside Christian defense that had bugged him all night to put in the game winner from inside the right elbow near the top of the key.
The following night at home, the Knights overcame the Mustangs with a big second half.
After leading just 27-22 at the break, the Knights outscored the Mustangs 41-27 in the second half.
"Trout Lake is quick," said Wagenaar. "They surprised me because they came out in a zone."
The Knights were able to break the zone, especially in the second half, with Sunnyside Christian's inside-outside game. Wagenaar said his players did a nice job of kicking the ball outside for an easy bucket when Trout Lake would collapse inside on a player.
Den Boer led the Knights with 28 points, hitting seven 3-pointers.
Sunnyside Christian (9-1, 16-1) travels to Glenwood this Friday night.
1 2 3 4 5 T
Riverside 17 10 9 2 2 40
SCHS 6 12 12 8 4 42
Scoring: SCHS-Jordan Haak 13, Matt Haak 11, Chad Den Boer 9, Andrew Schutt 9.
Riverside: Trevor Pynch 14, Chris Pynch 11.
Rebounds: Derek Van de Graaf 7, Chad Den Boer 5, Andrew Schutt 4.
1 2 3 4 T
Trout Lake 12 10 13 14 49
SCHS 19 8 21 20 68
Scoring: SCHS-Chad Den Boer 28, Andrew Schutt 14, Matt Haak 13, Jordan Haak 6, Derek Van de Graaf 5, Sean Tudor 2.
Trout Lake-Matt Dearden 19, Kris Huffsmith 12, Ben Steward 10.
Rebounds: Derek Van de Graaf 7, Andrew Schutt 6, Sean Tudor 4.
Assists: Sean Tudor 5, Andrew Schutt 4.