RICHLAND - Minus all-everything Israel Manzo, the Sunnyside Grizzly boys basketball team still nearly pulled out a win in a play-in game to the District tournament.
Tuesday's 68-60 loss to the Southridge Suns ended Sunnyside's season short of the District tourney. Sunnyside and Southridge had tied for sixth place in the CBBN during the regular season, which forced last night's tiebreaker.
Manzo, the team's leading scorer this season, had to sit out the contest due to a disciplinary issue according to Assistant Coach Ruben Fernandez, who declined further comment.
The Grizzlies actually looked solid at the start of last night's game, building a 15-11 first quarter lead. "We pressed them and created some turnovers," Fernandez said.
But the Suns responded in the second quarter by subbing in players and going on a 22-10 run to end the half up 33-25.
Sparked by reserves Sean Voorhies and Henry Wyborn, Southridge started the second stanza with a 9-2 run.
Back came Sunnyside in the third quarter, as Trey Serl canned back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Grizzlies a 40-39 lead with just under four minutes to play in the quarter.
Southridge knocked down a trey less than a minute later to regain the lead for good.
Even so, the Grizzlies trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter.
Sunnyside was close, but couldn't get over the top as the Suns connected on all seven of their free throw attempts over the final eight minutes.
"I thought we played a pretty tremendous defensive game but obviously the men in stripes didn't think so," Fernandez said.
Southridge attempted 19 free throws for the contest, making 16, while Sunnyside only had eight free throw attempts for the game, canning seven.
Fernandez praised the Suns for their clutch performance at the charity stripe.
"You have to give them credit," he said. "They had more opportunities than we did and they made their free throws when they needed to."
The Suns were sparked by 6-6 post Brad Scott with 15 points, while Southridge's all-league guard Matt Mendenhall was held to 10 points.
Pacing Sunnyside were Brandon Daley, Serl and Eric Amaro with 15 points each. Five of Daley's points came during the Grizzly rally in the third quarter.
Jessie Leija added seven points for Sunnyside, while Amaro led the Grizzlies in the paint with six rebounds.
The loss ends Sunnyside's season with an overall record of 9-12 after the Grizzlies opened the campaign with an 8-2 mark.
"It's been a roller coaster," Fernandez said of the 2011-12 season.
"The kids worked hard, but we needed to shoot in the mid-70s from the free throw line to win those tough games we knew we'd encounter," Fernandez added. "We only shot 57 percent from the line for the season and that definitely cost us some games down the stretch. We must have lost four or five games by less than 10 points."
Fernandez and the Grizzlies are looking forward to playing next season in the new-look CBBN.
"We've got some things to work on for next year and it started after last night's game," he said. "We're looking forward to coming out in this new league next season. We're excited about where we're heading."