SPOKANE - If the Sunnyside Christian girls were worried when they found out they had to take on top-seeded and undefeated Sprague-Harrington in its first game of the State Tournament, they didn't show it Wednesday night.
Behind clutch free throw shooting, timely baskets and a hard charging defense, the Lady Knights defeated the Falcons 58-54 to advance in the State Tournament.
SCHS opted not to press to start the game. "There are some teams we can press and some teams we can't," SCHS Coach Al Smeenk said. "We felt we couldn't press them."
The Lady Knights started with a man-to-man defense.
The score was back and forth in the early going of the first quarter. With the Falcons leading 12 to 11, Sprague-Harrington went on a 6 point run to lead 18 to 11.
"They were getting their points off of our turnovers," Smeenk said. "They were able to get several easy lay-ups."
It was 20 to 12 when Emily Hernandez sank a 3-point shot to cut the lead to three points, 20-15 to end the first quarter.
"I told them they need to take care of the ball," Smeenk said. "We have good guards and they know how to take care of the ball."
The falcons went on a 5-0 run to open the second period before Emma Newhouse hit a shot to stop the run. Two and a half minutes into the second quarter, SCHS committed its seventh team foul and the Falcons extended their lead to 10 points, 27-17.
That's when the Lady Knights started to come back.
Switching to a half court press, which seemed to surprise the Falcons, SCHS started to get fouled.
With the score 27-19, the Van Wingerden sisters, Tori and Melanie, combined for 14 points in the final four minutes of the half.
Tori Van Wingerden started it by nailing six free throws to cut the lead to two points, 27-25. With the score 31-26, Melanie Van Wingerden hit a free throw to make it 31-27 and then her sister Tori grabbed an offensive rebound and put back the shot to make it 31-29.
Hernandez hit a free throw to make it 33-30 when Melanie Van Wingerden scored the last four points of the quarter to give the Lady Knights a 34-33 lead at halftime.
In the second quarter the Lady Knights were 13-for-16 from the free throw line. "Melanie came in for us and played like an animal," Smeenk said.
At halftime Smeenk asked his players if they were a good third and fourth quarter team. "As the game progressed, we realized we could play with them," he added.
The third quarter was back and forth and at the end it was tied at 45, which set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter.
Led by Newhouse's 7 points in the final quarter and her unbelievable play on the boards, the Lady Knights tried to pull away from the Falcons. Four points would be the biggest lead they would get but it would be all they would need.
A quick two baskets by Newhouse put SCHS up 49-45 before the Falcons would tie the game at 51 with 3:56 remaining. The teams traded baskets before Brittany den Hoed put the Knights up by two, 55-53. Tori Van Wingerden then fouled Jamie Larmer, who then cut the Lady Knights lead to one point, 55-54. That would be all the points the Falcons would score as Newhouse put the game away as she hit 3-of-4 free throws to seal the victory for the Knights, 58-54.
"The girls played with tremendous heart," Smeenk said. "Emma really stepped it up in the fourth for us. She crashed the boards and picked up some fouls."
The Lady Knights were 23-for-29 (79 percent) from the charity stripe and the Falcons were 9-for-15 (60 percent).
Key to the game was the dominance SCHS showed on the boards. The Lady Knights grabbed 38 rebounds, 15 of them offensively, to 20 for Sprague-Harrington. The Knights committed two more turnovers than the Falcons, 20 to 18.
Percentage wise, the Falcons shot 47 percent from the floor to SCHS's 42 percent.
Tori Van Wingerden led the Knights with 19 points and four rebounds. She was 11-for-12 from the free throw line.
Newhouse finished with 11 points and nine rebounds while Hernandez also had 11 points and she grabbed four rebounds.
Melanie Van Wingerden dropped in 9 points and pulled down 5 rebounds. Brittany den Hoed added 6 points for the Lady Knights and snagged six rebounds.
The Falcons were led by Roni Jo Mielke with 19 points followed by Stacie Shields with 15 points. Natalie Deking finished with 8 points for the Falcons.
SCHS enjoyed the victory last night, but when they woke up this morning, it was time to get back to work.
The Lady Knights (19-6) will take on LaSalle (22-2) tonight at 7:30 p.m.. SCHS has had trouble with LaSalle all year, losing to them twice in the regular season and in the District Championship game.
"We just have to play hard and do what we do," Smeenk said of tonight's game. "Our goal is to go for four quarters."