RICHLAND - For the first two quarters last Friday, it appeared Sunnyside Christian Coach Dean Wagenaar had devised an ill-fated game plan for his Knights.
Playing their season opener at Liberty Christian, the Knights wanted to trap and press the much taller (and slower) Patriots in an effort to keep the pace of play at a near frantic level.
"We wanted the pace of the game to be hectic for them," Wagenaar said.
The plan nearly backfired, though. The Patriots turned to Jeremy Siefken, who bombed in three of Liberty Christian's five first quarter treys, as the home team built a 24-6 lead.
"The Siefken kid lit it up," Wagenaar said. "We weren't expecting that."
Liberty Christian looked to pile up the score even more when Siefken and Drew Haggerty hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second quarter, which extended the Patriots' lead to 30-10. Despite an urgency to regroup, however, the Knights stuck to their goal of trying to wear down their opponents.
By the middle of the second quarter, that weariness the Knights were looking for from the Patriots began to surface. Coupled with some decent shooting from the likes of Joel Koopmans and the Van de Graaf cousins, Aaron and Cole, Sunnyside Christian fought back to within 40-32 at halftime.
"The third quarter we came at them with pressure again," said Wagenaar. The end result? An 18-9 scoring run by the Knights and a 50-49 lead heading into the final stanza of play.
But, the Patriots refused to fold their tent. The game stayed tight, thanks in part to some less than stellar shooting from the free throw line by the Knights.
In fact, Liberty Christian got it to within two points late in the game after the Knights missed the front end of two one-in-one opportunities, as well as not dropping both ends of a two-shot foul.
But, with the game on the line, Koopmans responded by dropping in two free throws, then he came up with one of his team high four steals and converted it into a lay-in. Sunnyside Christian used the momentum established by Koopmans in the late going to go on to a 75-68 victory.
The pressure applied by the Knights affected the Patriots' play on both ends of the court in the second half. Offensively, said Wagenaar, the jump shots put up by the Liberty Christian players were falling short much of the time, hitting the front end of the rim. "They got tired on the defensive side, too," Wagenaar said, explaining that weariness opened up scoring opportunities for his club.
The most proficient of the scorers for the Knights was their big man, Cole Van de Graaf. He poured in 18 points on 8-of-8 shooting from inside the paint. "All of his shots were from close in," admitted Wagenaar, "But still, he had to hit them."
Van de Graaf's cousin, Aaron, added a 21-point effort from his guard position, although topping the scoring chart for the Knights was Koopmans, who dropped in a game high 26 points.
While pleased with opening the season with a win against what Wagenaar considers one of the best 1B teams in the state, he wasn't all that happy with the 12 turnovers his team committed.
"That's too many," he said. "We have to learn to value the ball."
Sunnyside Christian will take on its second straight non-league foe this Tuesday when the Knights travel to Kittitas. This coming Friday and Saturday, the Knights will host their home openers against Mount Vernon Christian and Shoreline Christian, respectively. Friday's game time is 7:30 p.m. and the start time Saturday will be 2:30 p.m.
S'side Christ. 10 22 18 25 -75
Liberty Christ. 24 16 9 19 -68
FG-S'side Christian 29/53 (C. Van de Graaf 8/8), Liberty Christian 23/45. 3-pt.-S'side Christian 1/11 (L. Brouwer), Liberty Christian 10/21 (Siefken 7). FT-S'side Christian 16/26, Liberty Christian 12/19. Rbds.-S'side Christian 31 (Koopmans 8, C. Van de Graaf 8, L. Brouwer 5, De Jong 4, DeVries 4), Liberty Christian 30. TO-S'side Christian 12, Liberty Christian 17.
Sunnyside Christian: Koopmans 26, C. Van de Graaf 18, Van Boven 0, J. Brouwer 0, L. Brouwer 5, A. Van de Graaf 21, DeVries 1, Meininger 0, De Jong 4, Freepons 0.
Liberty Christian: Siefken 22, I. Morgan 13, D. Hagerty 10, M. Wilson 11.