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S'side Christian girls stumble down the stretch at State tourney

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The Lady Knights, coaches and WIAA officials pose for a team photo at the end of Saturday night's trophy round game for third and sixth place honors.

YAKIMA - Disappointment! That pretty much sums up, said Sunnyside Christian Coach Al Smeenk, the general feeling that swallowed up the Lady Knights at this year's 1B State girls basketball tournament.

Sunnyside Christian, after opening State tourney action in the Yakima SunDome with 59-28 and 49-45 victories over the Mary Knight Owls and the Entiat Tigers, got swept aside in the final two rounds and settled for the sixth place trophy.

The Lady Knights, despite rallying from a 14-point deficit and tying the game with 11 seconds to go, succumbed to the eventual champion Garfield-Palouse Vikings in Friday night's semi-final contest, 57-53. Saturday, in the trophy round game for third and sixth place honors, Sunnyside Christian was upended in overtime by the Touchet Indians, 60-57.

The loss to Touchet (22-5) was especially difficult to swallow, considering the Lady Knights were up 31-17 midway through the third quarter. Inexplicably, though, Sunnyside Christian began coughing up the ball in the late going. The unforced turnovers, said Smeenk, were likely the result of fatigue...both physical and mental.

Saturday's trophy round game eventually went into overtime, but the Lady Knights were unable to right the ship.

"We made some defensive mistakes," Smeenk said of the OT period. "Touchet sent some cutters through the paint and in trying to stop them, we had some fouls called on us."

The Indians took advantage from the free throw line, outscoring Sunnyside Christian by a 7-4 margin in the extra session.

The Lady Knights had two good, wide open looks in the waning seconds to send the game into a second overtime, but the shots didn't fall.

The Touchet player who wreaked the most havoc against Sunnyside Christian proved to be 5'8" senior Megan Howerton. She canned 4-of-8 shots from behind the 3-point arc enroute to lighting up the scoreboard for a game-high 23 points.

"They set double picks for her. She rolled around the picks, got a good look and hit some nice shots," said Smeenk.

Howerton also got offensive support from 5'8" senior Taryn Short and 5'7" senior Courtney Frazier, who chipped in 16 and 10 points, respectively.

Sunnyside Christian's big guns against the Indians were 5'11" junior Melanie Van Wingerden and 5'7" senior Emma Newhouse. Each girl dumped in 14 points. Andrea Schutt, a 6'0" senior, added an 11-point effort for the Lady Knights, with teammates Erika denHoed, Hilari Bosma and Renee Dalrumple combining for another 16 points.

In what some 1B State tourney fans viewed as the game of the tournament, the Lady Knights saw their comeback hopes against eventual champion Garfield-Palouse dashed in Friday night's semi-final tilt. The two clubs were ranked one and two heading into the State tourney last week.

Sunnyside Christian was down by 14 in the fourth quarter, but put together a late charge to square the contest at 53-all with 11 seconds remaining. The work horses for the Lady Knights included the trio of Van Wingerden, Schutt and Newhouse, who finished with 17, 15 and 11 points, respectively.

After Sunnyside Christian tied the game, despite being double-teamed, senior Bridget Bower snaked through the paint and hit a running five-footer for the Vikings.

Sunnyside Christian quickly moved the ball up court, but on a drive to the bucket Van Wingerden was whistled for an offensive charge. The Vikings took advantage and nailed both free throws to account for the final 57-53 margin of victory.

"It was a great comeback on our part," Smeenk confirmed. "Could have gone either way.

"Garfield-Palouse is a very good team, obviously, they went on to win it all."

Although the Lady Knights (21-4) closed out the season with back-to-back losses, Smeenk said the girls hoop program is in good shape.

"It was disappointing to finish this way, no doubt about it. But when you look at the overall picture, we trophied at State and we're still pretty solid," he said.

The Lady Knights lose only two seniors to graduation this year, which means three starters are back next season, plus numerous other reserves who have plenty of State tourney experience under their belt.

"We'll be looking at a way to cut down the number of turnovers we had each game this season, but really, I think we're in pretty good shape in the future," said Smeenk.

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