SPOKANE - Typically, any time you bring home hardware from a State basketball tournament the general feeling is that your team has had a whale of a season.
Sunnyside Christian snagged the fifth-place trophy at the 1B State tourney at the Spokane Arena, but the Lady Knights were feeling more like guppies than whales. That's because they came so close to hauling in the big catch.
After a dominating 73-11 victory over the Mary M. Knight Owls in the State quarter-finals last Thursday, Sunnyside Christian dropped a heartbreaking 40-35 decision to the Colton Wildcats in Friday's semi-finals. The Lady Knights then got upended in Saturday's third/fifth place trophy round game at State by the Columbia Lions, 55-43.
"Losing the last two games of the year is tough," admitted SCHS Coach Al Smeenk, especially after stepping into the Spokane Arena with a 17-game win streak and an overall mark of 21-3.
"There were lots of tears in the locker room both nights," Smeenk said of the two season-ending losses.
"We came so close to playing for the title. It was right there in our grasp on Friday against Colton.
"Saturday, our girls left everything they had out there on the court. Turned out it just didn't happen," he said.
The biggest reason the Lady Knights couldn't secure the third-place trophy in their battle against the Columbia Lions was, simply put, the ball wouldn't drop through the hoop. Sunnyside Christian only made 14 of its shots from the field and was a woeful 12-for-25 from the free throw line.
"When you only shoot 28 percent from the field (14-for-49), you're not going to win a lot of basketball games," said Smeenk.
"We just missed our shots. Our guards struggled. The shots from our big girls weren't dropping.
"Bottom line, we just didn't shoot very well.
"I don't want to blame it on fatigue...everyone there competing for a trophy had to play three games at State.
"Sometimes you're on, sometimes you're not. Saturday, it just wasn't working for us," Smeenk said.
Despite not having a shooting touch, Sunnyside Christian was very much in the game against the Lions, who hail from Hunters, a small town just east of Grand Coulee Dam. The two clubs were tied at 18-all at intermission.
Senior Analisa VanOostrum helped stake the Lady Knights to a share of the lead early on, connecting for a team-best six points in the opening period. Teammate Stormee Van Belle added a four-point effort in the first quarter enroute to finishing with a team-high 15 points.
Columbia, behind Krista Colvin's 14 second-half points, pieced together a 15-9 run in the third quarter, however. The Lions then socked the game away by outscoring Sunnyside Christian 22-16 in the final stanza.
Besides the 14 points scored by Colvin, all of which came after intermission, Columbia got a team-best 16 points from Makenzie Parrow, 12 of those coming in the first half. Julie Larro also hit double figures for the winners with her 10-point effort.
In leading Sunnyside Christian in the scoring column, the freshman Van Belle was the only Lady Knight who shot respectably. She got seven of her nine field goal attempts to fall, although from the foul line Van Belle was just 1-for-6.
VanOostrum ended up adding a 14-point performance against Columbia, but it came on 3-of-10 field goal shooting. No one else on the Sunnyside Christian roster made more than four points in Saturday's trophy round contest.
The team that for all intents and purposes took the stuffing out of Sunnyside Christian was Colton. The Wildcats, who went on to win their third consecutive 1B State title, barely edged the Lady Knights in Friday's semi-final match-up, 40-35.
Sunnyside Christian, on a couple of great penetrations to the hoop by VanOostrum and Katie Long, and a strong inside shot by Marisa Broersma, got to within three points of Colton in the late going. The Wildcats persevered down the stretch, though, to claim the five-point margin of victory.
As it turned out, Sunnyside Christian was the only team at State to give the eventual winners a battle. Colton defeated Neah Bay by a 67-34 margin in the quarter-finals and upended Almira/Coulee-Hartline 50-40 in the championship game.
"I think we were a little intimidated by Colton early on," said Smeenk, explaining that his club hadn't seen the type of stifling defense the Wildcats apply from any of their opponents this season. "Full-court, in-your-face defensive coverage...it was pretty intense," he said.
Colton was also adept at preventing the Lady Knights from getting any good looks at the basket from the perimeter. The Wildcats held Sunnyside Christian to 1-of-8 shooting from behind the 3-point arc. The lone long-range bomb that did drop, the first bucket of the game, came off the fingertips of Long.
Colton, on the other hand, got six shots to fall from beyond the 3-point arc, two apiece by the Moser sisters, Jenna and Haley, and another two by Kaitlyn Druffell. To Sunnyside Christian's credit, the Lady Knights held the Wildcats to just 22 percent shooting from long range, as Colton made only 6-of-27 three-point attempts.
Sunnyside Christian's undoing came in the opening half, as the team headed to intermission with just 13 points under its belt.
"We were too tentative in the first half," said Smeenk. "We weren't taking the ball to the hoop," explaining his club only fired up 17 shots in the first two quarters.
The second half the Lady Knights played much more aggressively, exploding for 14 points in the third quarter and chipping in another eight in the final period to outscore Colton by one after the halftime break. Unfortunately for Sunnyside Christian, the six-point lead the Wildcats established in the opening half was enough to withstand the Lady Knights' charge after intermission.
Scoring-wise, VanOostrum was the lone Lady Knight in double figures against Colton. She tossed in a team-high 10 points. The sophomore Broersma was on her heels, though, with nine points, and Long chipped in seven.
Colton was led by Haley Moser with 12 points, with 6'1" post Mackenzie Heslet adding 10 points.
With only two seniors on this year's Sunnyside Christian team, Smeenk is already looking ahead to having almost his full roster back for the 2011-12 season. The one glaring weakness that needs examining, he reckons, is figuring out how to get the ball to drop through the hoop on a more consistent basis.
"Actually," he chuckled, "I jotted down a few notes on the drive back from Spokane, on things we might try next season."
Asked to sum up this season, Smeenk said it would be easy to reflect on the last two games, both heart-wrenching losses.
"But if you put it all in perspective, we had a great year," said Smeenk. "A 22-5 record, league champs, district champs and a win at the State tournament.
"A lot of teams would take that," he added.