SPOKANE - A punishing defense sparked the Sunnyside Christian Lady Knight basketball team to the 1B State tourney later this week.
Sunnyside Christian punched its ticket to the elite eight with a 62-29 victory this past Saturday over St. John-Endicott at Spokane's University High School.
The Lady Knights opened with an 8-0 run, but struggled with scoring for most of the first half on the way to a 12-6 first quarter lead and a 24-13 advantage at the half.
"It took a little while to get going, but we moved on to the final eight," said Sunnyside Christian Coach Al Smeenk.
Smeenk said his team struggled with the Eagles' zone defense.
"I was not happy with our offense in the first half," said Smeenk. "We didn't take care of the ball and didn't run our offense."
That all changed in the third quarter with a 21-4 run to ice the game.
Sunnyside Christian's key to pulling away was getting out on the fast break, Smeenk said. "We started running with the outlet passes and our tall girls took off."
Lady Knight post players Marissa Broersma and Stormee Van Belle did most of the damage, combining for 14 third quarter points.
For the game, Broersma tallied 15 points and Van Belle 12. Kara Den Hoed shared top scoring honors for Sunnyside Christian with 15 points, while teammates Katie Long and Alyssa Haak tallied six and five points, respectively.
Den Hoed helped Sunnyside Christian to a slim 35 to 31 rebounding edge by snagging seven boards.
Haak helped pace the Lady Knight attack with five assists. "She's a sparkplug for our team," Smeenk said of Haak.
Rachel Gefeller led St. John-Endicott with 10 points. Smeenk praised Den Hoed's defensive play in holding the Eagles' leading scorer, Gretchen Van Lith, to just two points on 1-of-7 shooting. "She's their catalyst and Kara played super defense on their best player," Smeenk said.
For the game, Sunnyside Christian outshot St. John-Endicott by making 46 percent of its attempts compared to 23 percent for the Eagles.
Sunnyside Christian (23-1) travels to the Spokane Arena this Thursday to take on Cusick at 9 p.m. On Friday the Lady Knights will face either Columbia (Hunters) or Yeshiva Northwest. Sunnyside Christian played both teams in last year's State tourney.
Smeenk is confident his team will come out ready to play Thursday on both offense and defense.
"We'll stay with the game plan, do what we've been working on," he said. "Our players have a good attitude, so we'll be okay."