SPOKANE - It would have been plenty easy for the two-time defending 1B State champs to have thrown in the towel after absorbing a heart-breaking 47-40 loss in their opening game at State last Thursday.
But as has become the unofficial trademark of a team that's made 14 consecutive appearances at State, which included winning it all in four of the previous five years heading into this year's Big Dance, the Sunnyside Christian Knights don't have a lot of quit in them.
This year's Knights picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after that 47-40 loss to Valley Christian, rallying with two straight victories on Friday and Saturday in the Spokane Arena to capture the fourth-place trophy.
Any concern that the Sunnyside Christian boys basketball team would have to settle for sixth-place honors at State was quickly dispelled in Saturday morning's 8 a.m. trophy round contest. Facing Muckleshoot Tribal High School in the fourth/sixth place game, the Knights jumped out to a 15-4 first-quarter lead, extending the advantage to 34-8 at the half.
The locker room speech from SCHS Coach Dean Wagenaar at intermission was short and to the point. He told his players, "...let's put them away early in the third quarter, because the Muckleshoot kids are athletic enough to come back on us."
Executing as requested, Wagenaar's Knights went on an 18-8 run in the third period to up their lead to 52-16.
The sparkplug during that stretch, as he has been the entire season, was Wagenaar's son, Trevor. The 6'2" forward, who'll be playing for the Dordt College men's hoop team this fall, poured in 12 of his game-high 33 points in that third stanza.
Despite sitting for the fourth quarter after Saturday's trophy round game was well in hand, the 33 points Wagenaar finished with set the new single-game scoring record at the 1B State tournament. Unfortunately for the Sunnyside Christian hoop star, that record was short-lived. In Saturday evening's title tilt, Almira/Coulee-Hartline's Derrick Isaak burned the net for 44 points in his team's four-point victory over Valley Christian.
The 33 points Wagenaar scored in the final game of his prep career provided another highlight, as well. The scoring barrage against Muckleshoot puts the SCHS senior sitting directly on the 1,500-point mark. Only two Sunnyside Christian players have higher scoring totals - Lance Den Boer with 2,851 points and younger brother Chad Den Boer with 1,569 points.
The Knights set the tone early in Saturday morning's trophy round contest, letting Muckleshoot know from the outset that they weren't handing out any freebies.
"From the get-go, we challenged every single shot they took on the opening seven or eight possessions of the game," said Coach Wagenaar.
The result was some apparent frustration on the part of the tribal players. They began putting up shots that earlier in the tournament weren't part of their repertoire.
One of the main keys to getting Muckleshoot to alter their shots was the play of 6-foot-7 Brandon Broersma. He clogged the lane and forced the Auburn-area team to hoist up off-balance shots whenever they penetrated the paint. Broersma, besides being a shot-changing menace in the low post, came away with five blocked shots. He also pulled down a game-best 10 rebounds, leading the Knights to a dominating 50 to 25 advantage on the boards. The big man, a junior, also joined Wagenaar in double figures in the scoring column by tossing in 10 points on 5-of-8 field goal shooting.
Another defensive key for Sunnyside Christian was Wagenaar, who was assigned to shut down Muckleshoot shooting star Ryan Oldman. Wagenaar limited Oldman to just two points through the first three quarters, although once Wagenaar exited the game, Oldman pushed in another 10 points in the final period to give him a team-best 12 for the game.
Overall against Muckleshoot Tribal, Coach Wagenaar had nothing but praise for all his players, especially with their defensive play.
"All of our kids played extremely hard on defense," he said, evidenced by holding Muckleshoot to just 16 points through the first three quarters.
Wagenaar emptied his bench in the final period, which allowed Muckleshoot to cut the final deficit to 62-36.
In Friday's consolation bracket loser-out game against the Mt. Rainier Lutheran Hawks, Wagenaar and Broersma combined for 39 points in Sunnyside Christian's 46-39 win.
Wagenaar popped in half of his game-high 20 points in the opening period, when the Knights forged a 19-9 lead.
That prompted the Hawks to switch up their defensive coverage. They pulled out of their zone defense and went with variations of a box-and-one and diamond-and-one designed to always keep two defenders on Wagenaar. The ploy worked somewhat, as Mt. Rainier Lutheran was able to cut into the Knights' lead, only trailing Sunnyside Christian by a 25-20 score at the half.
"Actually, we were up 23-9 in the second quarter, but Mt. Rainier ended up knocking down three treys against us to close the gap considerably," said Coach Wagenaar.
Sunnyside Christian gave up the lead to the Hawks in the third quarter, trailing by a 32-31 count heading into the final period of play.
"We went cold in the third quarter," said Wagenaar. "We had lots of wide open shots, but they weren't falling...not even the bunnies."
The fourth quarter was a different story. Behind their big man, Broersma, the Knights pieced together a 15-7 ending to the game, which gave them the seven-point victory. Broersma tallied nine points in the deciding stanza, finishing with 19 for the game. He canned 9-of-12 field goal attempts in the contest.
In looking back at the 2011-12 season, in which his club posted an overall record of 20-7, Coach Wagenaar said the thought of a third straight State championship was obviously always in the back of everyone's minds.
"Who wouldn't think about it?" he pondered.
"But in looking at who we lost off last year's team, rebuilding with some different players this season...we had a very good year.
"A 2-1 record at State, bringing home a fourth-place trophy, and a 20-win season...most teams will take that.
"I'm very proud of our kids and what they've accomplished this season," he added.