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Grizzlies fend off Hanford, 71-68

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   Sunnyside's Jordan Esqueda tries to drive the lane against a Hanford defender during last night's victory over the Falcons. Esqueda hit 6-of-7 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter to help the Grizzlies seal the win.

The Sunnyside Grizzly boys basketball team built a 10-point first half lead, then held on to edge Hanford 71-68 last night in the regular season finale for both teams.

With the Tuesday night win, Sunnyside will host Hanford again this Friday at 7 p.m. in a loser-out playoff game. The winner will advance to the District finals and play at West Valley Saturday to determine first and second seeds to the 3A Regional tourney.

In the first half last night it looked like the Grizzlies might cruise to a comfortable win. Sunnyside led 15-12 after one quarter and was up by as much as 10 in the second stanza before settling for a 38-30 lead at the half.

"We did a pretty good job defensively, we had pretty good pressure on their perimeter players and our press forced a number of turnovers," Sunnyside Coach Ron Rowe said of his team's first half surge.

Israel Manzo led the Grizzlies in the second quarter by scoring seven of his team-high 18 points in the frame. Alfredo De La Barrera and Kyle Leija each tallied five points in the second quarter, with De La Barrera scoring 12 of his 14 points for the game in the first half.

The Falcons answered with Pete Zachara in the second half.

"We did a very good job on him in the first half, but in the second half he got open on the perimeter. He's a good shooter and we weren't able to keep him contained," said Rowe.

The Hanford shooter was held to just 11 points in the first half, but Zachara scored 10 points in both the second and third quarters to put the Falcons in contention.

In the third quarter, Hanford went on a 21-14 run to pull within one, 52-51, heading into the fourth quarter.

The Falcons kept the pressure on in the final quarter, grabbing a 54-52 lead early in the fourth stanza.

"They hit three threes in the third quarter," Rowe said of Hanford's rally. "They were trying to be a little more patient."

Sunnyside found an answer in the fourth quarter, going back to the pressure defense it employed in the first half.

"We played stronger defensively, our presses were able to force several turnovers and we were able to capitalize," said Rowe.

The Grizzlies regained the lead and went up by six points with three minutes left in the contest.

Back came Hanford with some timely scoring, including two threes in the last two minutes to knot the contest.

At one point, the Falcons led by a point late in the game before Sunnyside tied it with a free throw with about a minute to play.

The Grizzlies held on defense and grabbed a one-point lead inside the last minute.

Sunnyside got another stop on defense in the final 30 seconds. The Grizzlies held the ball from there, forcing Hanford to foul. Sunnyside's Jordan Esqueda responded by connecting on two free throw tries to put the Grizzlies up 71-68.

The Falcons had time for one more bucket.

"We made sure they didn't get a three up," Rowe said of the final seconds. "They missed a two and we got the rebound."

Free throws were pivotal for keeping Hanford at bay, as Esqueda and Leija were a combined 9-of-11 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, the Grizzlies had hit just 9-of-17 free throw attempts.

Manzo was also a key factor in the fourth quarter, sparking Sunnyside with nine points in the frame.

For the game, Manzo led Sunnyside with 18 points, followed by De La Barrera and Leija, who tallied in double figures with 14 and 13 points, respectively.

De La Barrera also collected seven rebounds and Esqueda dished out four assists.

Besides Zachara's 31 points, Hanford was led by Kyle Wagar and Kevin Hodgson with 18 and 12 points, respectively.

The contest marked the second Sunnyside contest in five days decided by just a bucket.

The difference last night - Sunnyside lost a thriller to West Valley this past Friday - is the Grizzlies found a way to win.

"There were a couple of times that we got behind in the fourth quarter," Rowe said of last night's game. "The boys dug down and gave a little extra effort and that made some things happen. It made us stronger as we finished."

Rowe says, though, that his guys gave their best in both games.

"Our players did a good job in both games, they were able to meet the challenges they were faced with," the coach said. "Hanford rallied and came at us several times but we were able to stay strong and come back and give ourselves a little bit of a lead down the stretch."

Now the Grizzlies (6-6, 10-10) get to do it all over again this Friday against a Hanford team they've already beaten twice this season.

The key to making it a third win over the Falcons this season?

"It's obvious both teams know each other really well," Rowe said. "It's going to come down to playing a complete game. We need to be consistent, and keep consistent pressure on their offense.

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