The Sunnyside Grizzly boys basketball team survived its second loser-out game in four days, prevailing 51-45 last night over Mount Spokane.
That leaves the Grizzlies two wins away from earning a berth to this year's 3A State tournament.
Nearly down for the count, the Sunnyside Grizzly boys basketball team stayed alive in the 3A Regional tourney with a 15-4 run over the final five minutes of Tuesday night's home game to punch its ticket to Regional play in Spokane this weekend.
Sunnyside relied on an inside power game in the first half. In the first quarter, Grizzly forward Alfredo De La Barrera scored six straight points in the paint to help Sunnyside cling to a 13-12 lead after one quarter. De La Barrera and Pedro Vargas combined for six points in the second stanza to stake Sunnyside to a 22-15 lead with just a little over two minutes remaining in the half.
While Sunnyside controlled the tempo, Grizzly defenders kept Mount Spokane at bay, denying the Eagles a field goal for the first six minutes of the second quarter. Mount Spokane was only able to muster three points off of 3-of-8 shooting from the free throw line.
Just as it looked like the Grizzlies may be on the verge of pulling away, Mount Spokane suddenly caught fire from the perimeter and closed out the half with a 5-2 run to pull within 24-20 at intermission.
The guests continued the surge into the third quarter, tying the contest at 26-26 early in the frame. Mount Spokane was sparked by a three-point shooting game that suddenly came to life.
After a series of three-point attempts rimmed or bounced off in the first half, Mount Spokane suddenly couldn't miss, led by Chaz Johnson with three treys in the third quarter.
Sunnyside also started finding success from the perimeter, as Kyle Leija downed a free throw line jumper to put the Grizzlies back up 28-26. Israel Manzo joined Leija in finding a hot hand around the free throw line area, scoring Sunnyside's last six points of the third quarter to stake the Grizzlies to a 36-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
As it has so often this season, Sunnyside's offense was fed by the defense. After Mount Spokane made its run in the late second and early third quarters, Sunnyside responded with a half-court defense that kept things close.
But everything nearly came unraveled in the fourth quarter, as Sunnyside went nearly six minutes without a field goal with Mount Spokane reeling off nine unanswered points to lead 41-36 with five minutes to play.
The Eagles were helped in part by spreading the court in the face of Sunnyside's press.
The Grizzlies had anticipated that move and responded with strategy of their own.
"We knew that they like to do that, a real key was not to get in a hurry on defense," Sunnyside Coach Ron Rowe said. "The boys did a really good job on that. We were able to keep defensive pressure and not allow a lot of open areas."
Sunnyside's scoring drought finally ended at the 4:29 mark when Vargas canned two free throws to pull the Grizzlies within 41-38.
The Grizzlies finally got their first field goal of the quarter when Manzo hit a clutch three-pointer at the 3:30 mark to tie the game at 41-41.
Mount Spokane took the lead back one more time, connecting on 2-of-4 free throw tries to go up 43-41 with less than three minutes to play. James Sanchez put an arrow right into the Mount Spokane faithful's heart just seconds later, though, nailing a three-point bucket to put Sunnyside up 44-43 at about the two minute mark. The Grizzlies never looked back.
After Mount Spokane failed to score the other way, Sanchez brought the home crowd to its feet with a three-pointer that made it a 47-43 ball game for the Grizzlies with just over a minute to play.
Mount Spokane had chances at the free throw line, in the paint and from behind the arc, but could not convert.
The Eagles finally hit for two, but with the game clock ticking down inside a minute to play they had no choice but to foul. De La Barrera answered the challenge by hitting on two free throws to put the Grizzlies up 49-45.
Mount Spokane never scored again, while the Grizzlies shot 2-of-4 from the foul line in the final seconds to seal the win.
Manzo said the difference late in the game is that Sunnyside kept up a fast pace.
"Coach just told us to keep pressing because they were getting tired," Manzo said of Sunnyside's late-game strategy. The freshman said teamwork was key late in the contest. "We moved the ball well, that's what we do best because we're shorter than everybody else," he said.
Between them, Manzo and Vargas accounted for 16 of Sunnyside's 27 second half points, most coming from free-throw and three-point range.
De La Barrera, who rubbed off more defenders than a gambler with a fist-full of lottery scratch-off tickets, was glad for the perimeter sharp-shooting.
"It felt good," he said of seeing the Grizzlies open up a threat from the outside, especially considering that Mount Spokane was double-teaming he and Vargas down low for much of the evening.
De La Barrera led Sunnyside with 13 points, followed by Vargas with 12 points. The two post players did much of their damage in the first half. Leija and Manzo chipped in nine and seven points, respectively, all coming in the second half.
Chaz Johnson and Connor Haley led Mount Spokane with 16 points each.
Leija and De La Barrera led Sunnyside in rebounding with eight and seven boards, respectively. Leija added to his all-around solid game by sharing high assist honors with teammate Jordan Esqueda, as both had five dishes.
Rowe praised the defensive effort by Esqueda, Manzo and Matt Johnson in hounding the Eagles.
"They all gave us some minutes on their best guard and that was pretty effective for us. That helped us down the stretch," the coach said.
Sunnyside (12-11) travels to Rogers High School in Spokane this coming Saturday to open a double-elimination Regional tourney. The Grizzlies will face Shadle Park.
Win or lose, Sunnyside will play again next weekend when the Regional tourney moves to Hanford High School.