YAKIMA - Oh, what might have been.
The two-time defending State champion Sunnyside Christian Knights had given themselves a seven-point cushion with just over a minute to play in last night's State tourney quarter-final match-up with the Cusick Panthers and were all but assured a spot in tonight's semi-final game against Moses Lake Christian Academy.
If the game would have ended 1:37 early, then that scenario would have played out. But a high school basketball game is 32 minutes long, not 30 and a half, and Cusick used those precious 90 seconds to shock the Knights and knock off the defending State champions.
Down 47-40 with 1:32 left in the game, Dustin Villegas put up a long three-point attempt that missed but hit the backboard so hard that it ended up flying over the heads of the Sunnyside players and into the hands of Cusick teammate Spencer Shanholtzer. He then put up another long three-point attempt that went in, cutting the Knights' lead to 47-43 with 1:19 left.
A quick foul set up one-and-one situation at the free throw line for Sunnyside but the Knights missed the front end and Cusick rebounded. Flying down the court, Riley Bauer then put up another long three-point attempt and made it, cutting Sunnyside's lead to just one point with 52 seconds left.
After another quick foul Sunnyside Christian's Trevor Wagenaar iced two free throws and the SCHS fans breathed a sigh of relief.
It was relief that was short lived as Tyler Edwards became the third Panther in a minute to hit a three-point shot and the game was tied at 49 apiece.
With five seconds left Steven Broersma's short pull-up jumper for the Knights missed and Cusick recovered the rebound. After a timeout the Panther inbound passer found a streaking Shanholtzer, who put up a running shot as the buzzer sounded that banked in, giving Cusick a 51-49 win at the boys 1B State Tournament in Yakima.
"It's a tough way to lose a game after a 9-0 run at the dome," SCHS Coach Dean Wagenaar said of last night's loss. "The team was shocked last night but the sun is shining and today's a new day."
Wagenaar pointed to Cusick's first three-point shot with 1:19 in the game. He said if his team could have secured the rebound the Panthers would have been forced to foul, which would have put the Knights in a great position.
The Knights had plenty of opportunities to win this game. They led through much of the game but just couldn't put the final nail in Cusick's coffin.
The Panthers jumped to a 4-0 lead but SCHS quickly settled down and soon were leading 9-4. After one quarter the score was in the Knights' favor, 9-6.
SCHS built up an 18-12 lead before the Panthers stormed back to tie it at 18. The Knights then went on a 6-2 run to end the quarter with a 24-20 halftime lead.
"We had too many turnovers in the first half," Wagenaar said. "That was probably the difference in the game. We didn't score as much as we should have."
The Knights committed 11 turnovers in the first half and only 17 for the game.
In the second half the Knights cut down on their mistakes and shot the ball better from the field but still couldn't put the Panthers away.
Free throws played a part in it. The Knights were 3-for-5 in the first half but shot only 33 percent (4-for-12) from the charity stripe in the second half.
While both teams shot around 33 percent from the three-point line Cusick put up more, going 8-for-23 compared with just 2-for-6 for the Knights.
The Panthers used a 12-9 third quarter run to cut Christian's lead to one point to begin the fourth and then outscored the Knights 19-16 in the final stanza for the win.
Sunnyside Christian was led by Broersma with 14 points. He also grabbed eight rebounds and had three blocked shots. The freshman Wagenaar finished with 11 points. Tim DeVries had nine points for SCHS, as did teammate Matt Crabtree. Kevin DeJong was the only other Knight to score, he finished with six points.
The Panthers were led by Shanholtzer with 18 pionts. Bauer scored 12 points for Cusick and Edwards added eight points.
The loss puts SCHS (12-12) in a game against the Curlew Cougars, today at 4 p.m. at the SunDome in Yakima.
"I thought as a team we played well," Wagennar said. "Give them (Cusick) credit."
Wagenaar said the best thing for his team is to get on the court and play.
"We're going to go out there and press, get the kids' blood going," he added. "We want to come out and play well tonight to give us a chance at a trophy on Saturday."