RICHLAND - The fourth time was not a charm, as the Sunnyside Grizzly boys basketball team lost 54-47 to West Valley last Friday in a loser-out Regional tourney contest.
Sunnyside, which came within a game of playing for a State tourney berth, had previously lost to the Rams twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs.
Friday's win-or-go-home contest was close from the outset, as the Grizzlies trailed just 13-9 after one quarter.
Sunnyside put on a shooting clinic in the second stanza, led by four three-pointers from James Sanchez and five points in the frame from Alfredo De La Barrera.
By the time the dust cleared, the Grizzlies scored 22 points in the second quarter to take a 31-29 lead at the half.
"We had good, inside-out play," Sunnyside Coach Ron Rowe said of the Grizzlies' second-quarter outburst. "We mixed some things up on offense and did a good job of moving the ball around."
Sunnyside couldn't sustain the hot shooting touch, though, connecting on just one of 10 shot attempts in the third period. The Grizzlies were outscored 12-2 in the third quarter and trailed by eight points, 41-33, going into the fourth quarter. West Valley's Matt Borton scored six of his game-high 20 points in the third stanza.
"They (the Rams) were covering us pretty tight," Rowe said of his team's third quarter shooting struggles. "We had some good looks at different times; we just didn't make the basket."
Sunnyside found its second wind in the final quarter, pulling to within 46-41 with two minutes to play. The Grizzlies then forced a pair of Ram turnovers and converted the other way to eventually get within two points, down 49-47 with 1:20 to play.
"We stayed with our man-to-man (defense)," said Rowe. "We also opened up a little more full court pressure."
The strategy worked well enough to get Sunnyside to within a bucket, even as West Valley tried to eat up as much time as possible.
"They were trying to run the clock down and we were able to force some turnovers," Rowe said.
Sunnyside's late surge was sparked by De La Barrera with five points and Jordan Esqueda with four points.
The Rams were able to ice the game late, however, by hitting free throws. Rowe said Sunnyside had some open looks the other way, but was unable to connect as West Valley outscored Sunnyside 5-0 over the final 80 seconds of the contest.
Sanchez scored 15 points to lead Sunnyside, followed by De La Barrera with 12 points. De La Barrera hauled down eight rebounds to lead the Grizzlies in the paint.
Israel Manzo and Esqueda each dished out five assists for the Grizzlies. Esqueda and Kyle Leija also helped Sunnyside on the boards as each collected five caroms.
The loss ended Sunnyside's season at 12-13.
"We had a good season," said Rowe. "We weren't picked any higher than the bottom of the league, but the team got stronger and stronger through the season, finished third in the league."
The Grizzlies were also second in the 3A District tourney prior to a Regional playoff run that fell one game short of playing for a State berth.
"It was a great year, from pre-season predictions to the final outcome," the coach said. "You always like to win that last game and keep on going, but sometimes that doesn't happen."
Friday's loss wrapped up the high school hoop careers for four Sunnyside seniors; Kyle Leija, Tristan Abbott and Pedro Vargas.
"The kids had a pretty strong work ethic," Rowe said of this team's keys for success in 2008-09. "We had a good, consistent defense and good overall team play. Our rebounding was better than average at times."
Rowe also tipped his hat to the fans for their support of the Grizzlies during the regular season and playoff run.
"The fans supported us through the year and we really appreciated it."