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State's No. 4 ranked Braves survive road trip to Sunnyside

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Sunnyside's Selena Rubalcava finds an open lane to the hoop in action last night against the state's fourth-ranked Kamiakin Braves. Rubalcava finished with eight points on the night, which included going 3-for-5 from the free throw line.

Getting double-digit scoring performances from the trio of Jordan Rodriguez, Vanessa Alvarez and Monique Willingham - who together made 54 percent of their shots from the field on 20-of-37 shooting - the Sunnyside High School girls basketball team gave visiting Kamiakin all it could handle last night.

The non-league match-up between the two 3A teams went the Braves' way, however, as Kamiakin eked out a 68-65 win.

Sunnyside fell to 4-4 overall on the season with Tuesday's tightly-contested loss.

Kamiakin, now 6-1 on the year and currently ranked as the fourth best 3A team in the state, for the most part lofted up its shots from inside the paint. Pounding the ball inside time and again, the Braves went to 5'10" senior Courtney Nelson and 5'11" sophomore Lindsey Schauble, who together poured in 22 and 12 points, respectively. Junior Sira Toure and sophomore Holly Ellison chipped in 12 and 10 points for the winners.

The Lady Grizzlies actually outplayed Kamiakin for a shade over 21 of the 32-minute game. From the outset of the second quarter until there was just under two and a half minutes remaining in the contest, Sunnyside outscored the visitors by a 48-35 margin. Sunnyside's undoing, though, was the Braves' quick start - a 21-12 first-quarter run - and a 10-0 scoring spurt by Kamiakin in the closing minutes.

Sunnyside trailed from the get-go, down 16-2 before rallying with a 10-5 run to close out the opening quarter and draw within 21-12. Keying the late first-quarter rush was an offensive putback by the 5'10" Willingham, a bomb from 3-point land off the fingertips of Celia Vargas and two pivotal buckets by Rodriguez - one on a spinning move through the lane and the other a 3-point howitzer that found nothing but net.

Alvarez, a starter all year but who was used off the bench last night, was the spark for Sunnyside in the second period. She bucketed 4-of-7 shots that quarter, primarily on baseline jumpers and drives into the paint, in tallying eight points to lead the Lady Grizzlies to a 19-17 scoring advantage, which cut Kamiakin's lead at the half to just 38-31. Willingham, who totaled 12 points in the game on 5-of-7 shootinhg, chipped in four points in the period, as well, both baskets the results of pinpoint feeds to her in the paint.

Mighty mite Selena Rubalcava, at only 5'5", was the catalyst for Sunnyside in outscoring the Braves 18-10 in the third quarter. The sophomore didn't especially have a great night shooting the ball, connecting on just 2-of-15 field goal attempts, but she did manage eight points, and they all came in that third period. Rubalcava's biggest shot came with just three seconds left in the quarter, when she buried a haymaker from treyland, which gave the Lady Grizzlies their first lead of the game, at 49-48.

Two consecutive buckets by Schauble to open the final period got Kamiakin the lead back, at 52-49. Alvarez responded for Sunnyside, drilling the first of her two 3's on the night to tie it at 52-52.

The Braves recaptured the momentum with back-to-back baskets by Amanda Miller and Toure to go up by four.

But with four and a half minutes left, Sunnyside went on an 8-0 tear to regain the lead at 60-56. Tiana Perez started the run, getting a pass inside the paint from Rodriguez and converting it for her only field goal of the night. Rodriguez, who along with Alvarez shared team-high scoring honors with 18 points apiece, then knocked down back-to-back treys, which gave her four 3's on the night.

Rodriguez's last trey came with 2:40 remaining and had Sunnyside in front by four. The Braves, though, didn't flinch. Kamiakin pieced together a 10-0 run over the course of the next two minutes to seal the deal, going up by a 66-60 score.

The Lady Grizzlies outscored Kamiakin 5-2 in the final 23 seconds, which included a buzzer-beating trey off the fingertips of Alvarez, to account for the final 68-65 outcome.

In assessing his club's performance, SHS Coach Rick Puente said the 11 first-half turnovers committed by the Lady Grizzlies didn't help matters any. "But we made adjustments at the half, stressing to the girls to take better care of the ball. They did a much better job in the second half, only turning it over six times."

Puente said he was pleased with his girls' play on the boards, as they pretty much came away with the same number of rebounds as the much taller Braves. Willingham was Sunnyside's top rebounder with eight caroms gathered in.

Offensively, Puente acknowledged that his top three scorers performed well, shooting at a 54 percent clip. The remaining team members only connected on 5-of-28 shots from the field, however.

Puente, though, is hesitant in pulling in the reins on any of his players, saying "...we want everyone to be an offensive threat.

"But, we have to learn not to force our shots. We're working on being more selective, and you can see each game out the girls are starting to be more patient in looking for a good shot."

Asked about his Lady Grizzlies' comeback charge last night, especially against the No. 4 ranked team in the state, Puente said he couldn't have been more pleased with the effort put forth by his players. "We have that never say die attitude, and the kids give it everything they've got.

"At the end, after expending so much energy to get back into the game, the girls might have gotten a little tired out there. We had a short bench last night...three girls were out of the line-up.

"But I can't question the effort they gave. They left it all out on the court."

Sunnyside will take a break for the holidays before its next game, scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 29, at Hanford.

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