SPOKANE - Fourteen years and counting. That's the number of times Sunnyside Christian will have made consecutive appearances at the WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament.
The two-time defending 1B State champs, winners of four of the last five 1B State titles and State champions six of the last 10 years, move on to the Spokane Arena later this week to join the seven other State tourney finalists.
The state's fourth-ranked Knights will open the State tourney against the No. 3 ranked Valley Christian Panthers of Spokane Valley, who will be making their first appearance at the Big Dance since 2003. This coming Thursday's match-up between the two 1B schools is slated for 9 a.m. The winner will move on to Friday's State semi-final game, set for 3:45 p.m. The loser of Thursday's State tourney opener will drop into the consolation bracket and be forced to play a loser-out game at State early Friday morning.
Sunnyside Christian punched its 14th consecutive ticket to the Big Dance by knocking off the Rosalia Spartans, 53-44, in last Friday night's Regional loser-out game, staged at Spokane Valley's University High School.
The Knights, now 18-6 on the season, got by Rosalia with some pinpoint shooting in the first half and by making a big adjustment on defense after intermission.
Riding the hot hand of senior Trevor Wagenaar, who nailed 8-of-10 shots from the field in pouring in 21 points in the opening two quarters, Sunnyside Christian opened a 32-25 first-half lead on the Spartans last Friday. As a team, the Knights made 13-of-19 field goal attempts before the halftime break.
"Defensively, they played the entire first half straight man against us," said SCHS Coach Dean Wagenaar.
That allowed his son, the team's leading scorer this season who'll be a member of the Dordt College men's basketball team this coming fall, to exploit the single coverage. Besides the 21 first-half points he popped in, Sunnyside Christian got a seven-point effort from its big man, 6-foot-7 Brandon Broersma, in the second quarter, when the Knights pieced together a 19-13 run.
Despite the first-half explosion on the scoreboard by his club, Coach Wagenaar wasn't all that happy Rosalia was still within seven points when the two teams went into intermission, due chiefly to David Littleton nailing three shots from back of the 3-point arc. He decided to switch the Knights out of their 2-3 match-up zone coverage, their bread-and-butter defense, and called on them to employ the seldom used "41" defense.
Explaining, Coach Wagenaar said the "41" set-up calls for four of his players to play straight man against the other team's four best players, with the 6'7" Broersma sagging off his man and plugging the lane.
Bingo! The ploy worked, as Rosalia could only tally three points in what proved to be the decisive third quarter.
The Spartans, themselves, made a halftime adjustment and went away from man coverage to a 1-2-2 zone after intermission. It worked somewhat, especially in slowing up the prolific scoring Wagenaar. Still, Sunnyside Christian got nine points to fall in the third period, giving the Knights a 41-28 lead heading into the final eight-minute stanza.
Rosalia, though, took advantage of two quick fouls called on Broersma, giving him four for the game. Sunnyside Christian's big man was quickly pulled from the floor, but seven seconds later Coach Wagenaar gambled and put him back out on the court.
Wagenaar said the 6'7" post was told to pull back on his aggressiveness. "Basically, we told him all he could do was go straight up when defending the lane."
Todd Nelson, who finished with 13 points for Rosalia, was able to exploit that a bit, getting a couple buckets to fall by pulling up and hitting jumpers over the big man. The Spartans also got two big treys from Damian Loucks in the final period.
But with Sunnyside Christian getting another nine points from Wagenaar in the second half, as well as 13 total from Broersma and another eight points from its point guard, Alex Brouwer, the Knights were able to keep Rosalia at bay.
"They got it whittled down to within nine points of us a couple of times in that last period, but that was as close as they got," said Coach Wagenaar.
"Actually, it shouldn't have been that close. They got into the situation where they had to start fouling us, but we only got 5-of-12 free throws to drop in the fourth quarter," he said.
In leading his club with a game-high 30 points, the senior Wagenaar also shared game-high rebounding honors with Broersma. Both Knights scraped 12 rebounds off the glass, giving Sunnyside Christian a 38 to 23 advantage on the boards. Broersma nearly had a triple-double, as he had eight blocks to go along with his 12 boards and 13 points.
Senior Jackson Haak was credited with a team-high three assists for Sunnyside Christian, who had the only other points for the Knights, two total.
Although he didn't score, junior Drew Puterbaugh drew rave reviews from his coach for turning in a stalwart defensive effort. "He came away with several loose balls for us," said Wagenaar.
In claiming the win-and-you're-in, loser-out game last Friday, Coach Wagenaar said it was even a more rewarding experience because it came in the Regional opener.
"It turned out to be an intense game, and Rosalia brought a large crowd with them, which made for a lot of excitement.
"And, it allowed us to stay and watch the second Regional game that followed, where Almira Coulee-Hartline beat Colton, which had been ranked number one in the state.
"To top it off, we got to stay over and watch our (Sunnyside Christian) girls win their game the next night," he added.