RICHLAND - The Sunnyside Grizzlies last Friday put an exclamation point on their best season in years as they beat Hanford for a regular season sweep of the Falcons. That gives the Grizzlies the No. 1 seed ranking at this coming weekend's District tournament.
The win also gives Sunnyside an automatic berth to the Regional tournament. The No. 1 seed is Sunnyside's first since 1975, when the Grizzlies were part of the Mid-Valley League. Sunnyside will host the winner of Hanford and West Valley on Saturday, Feb. 20.
Things didn't start out that well for the Grizzlies this past Friday night in Richland. The Falcons were able to jump out to an early lead and led 12-6 after one quarter.
"We got off to a slow start," Sunnyside Coach Ron Rowe said.
Sunnyside shot just 2-of-14 from the floor in the first quarter.
"We were getting some good looks, we just weren't getting our shots to fall," Rowe said. "Our defense was real key for us. They kept us in the game."
Sunnyside's defense kept the Grizzlies close until the offense could get back into the game. The defense was able to force some turnovers in the second quarter and the Grizzlies climbed to within four points, 26-22, at halftime.
Rowe said the Grizzlies really began to apply the pressure in the third quarter. With just three minutes left in the period Sunnyside was trailing 37-31. The Grizzlies' defense forced some turnovers and Sunnyside was able to tie the game at 39 heading into the fourth quarter.
Sunnyside's defense forced 24 Hanford turnovers that led to 20+ points for the Grizzlies.
To start the fourth quarter Marcus Mandebauch hit a three-point shot to give Hanford back the lead but Sunnyside's James Sanchez hit two three-point shots in a row to give Sunnyside its first lead of the night. They didn't look back after that.
The Grizzlies went 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the last three minutes of play to seal the win. Sunnyside outscored Hanford 20 to 7 in the final period.
"This was a real strong effort by our team," Rowe said. "The kids showed a lot of heart and determination."
Alfredo De La Barrera led Sunnyside with 14 points, five rebounds and four steals. Sanchez drained 11 points and had three assists for the Grizzlies. Chance Graff added 10 points and grabbed four steals. Israel Manzo, Matt Johnson and Jordan Esqueda each had seven points for Sunnyside. Jesse Leija and Jacob Bos added two points each.
Hanford was led by Aaron Neary with 15 points. Pete Zachara added 10 points for Hanford, Mandebauch finished with six points. Jalen Devine had five points. Kurt Rueter and Brady Haynes finished with four points for the Falcons and Mike Funk added two points.
Rowe said he was real pleased with his team's defensive effort, both individually and team-wise. Sunnyside was able to keep Hanford's leading scorer, Zachara, to just one field goal in the second half. The Grizzlies also kept Mandebauch to under double figures.
"I have to give our players a lot of credit," Rowe added. "They battled from behind and then surged ahead."
Sunnyside will play it last game of the regular season this Tuesday, Feb. 16, when the Grizzlies host West Valley at 7:30 p.m.