Last night's humbling 83-64 loss to the Shadle Park Highlanders brought an end to what had been, up until that point, a pretty solid season for the Lady Grizzly basketball team.
Based on its No. 2 seeding out of the Columbia Basin region, Sunnyside earned the right to host Tuesday evening's Class 3A District 5/8 contest. Unfortunately for the host Lady Grizzly hoopsters, the District tourney opener was a loser-out contest.
SHS Coach Rick Puente's game plan going in was to turn up the defensive heat on the Spokane team, "...and see how they react to it," he explained prior to the pivotal match-up.
The strategy was effective, it turns out, as the Highlanders struggled to get the ball to drop through the hoop early on. Shadle Park made just 6-of-20 shots from the field in the opening quarter, although the Highlanders made up for the misses by popping in 5-of-9 from the free throw line to edge out to a 14-11 first-quarter lead.
"Our girls came out executing our defensive plan," said Puente. "They kept the Shadle Park girls at bay, contesting everything."
Shadle Park eventually adjusted to the Lady Grizzlies' defensive tactics and settled into an offensive rhythm in the second period, connecting on 6-of-13 field goal attempts in building a 37-30 halftime lead.
"Good teams make adjustments, and Shadle Park did against us," Puente said.
The ploy to put up an aggressive defensive front, as it turned out, kept Sunnyside within striking distance heading into second-half action.
However, the tide turned quickly after intermission, when Shadle Park Coach Chad Dezellem turned the tables on Puente and deployed a blistering defensive attack of his own. The high-pressure, swarming defensive play of the Highlanders befuddled the Lady Grizzlies, causing them to cough up the ball over and over, and over and over.
Having scouted Shadle Park last week, Puente said he anticipated seeing the half-court trapping defensive scheme that the Highlanders executed after intermission.
"We knew they were going to turn up the tempo," he said, explaining strategies were devised at halftime to counter Shadle Park's aggressive defensive play.
Those strategies to break the half-court trap didn't pan out.
"It's tough in practice to simulate the kind of scenario we faced. We hadn't seen that kind of pressure all season," Puente said.
The end result was a 23-5 run by Shadle Park early on in the third quarter. But, even after the Lady Grizzlies figured out how to advance the ball down court without turning it over, the Highlanders outscored Sunnyside 9-7 in the final three and a half minutes of the third period.
An 11-4 spurt to open the final stanza, increasing Shadle Park's lead to 80-46, took all the suspense out of the game.
Dezellem called off the dogs from that point on and began substituting freely. That allowed Sunnyside to close the gap to the final 83-64 score.
Sunnyside's leading scorers last night proved to be sophomores Jordan Rodriguez and Selena Rubalcava. They canned 19 and 18 points, respectively. In all fairness, though, more than half those points came during garbage time, after Dezellem put his club into a soft defensive alignment and went heavily to his bench in the waning minutes.
The workhorse for Sunnyside, at least when the game was still up for grabs, turned out to be Monique Willingham. The 5-10 junior, patrolling the paint, pumped in 15 points, 10 of them coming in the opening half and the other five in the third quarter. She ended up shoving in 5-of-10 shots from the field. Most of Willingham's misses were the result of being heavily hacked when she went up for shots from beneath the hoop. Sent to the free throw line on those occasions, Willingham made good on 5-of-9 attempts.
"Monique did an excellent job in the paint," said Puente. "She played aggressively and worked hard last night.
"She'll be a big factor next season for us with her inside presence," he added.
Early on last night, Shadle Park built a 10-5 lead, primarily due to the efforts of 6-2 junior Kendra Winchester, who buried two shots from under the rim. Winchester, who didn't see much action again until the fourth quarter, ended the game with 8 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
The Lady Grizzlies made it a 10-7 game when Willingham scored from the paint, then squared the contest at 10-all on a "Downtown Freddie Brown" trey launched by Rodriguez with just over a minute to play in the opening period.
It was all free throw shots in that final minute of the first quarter, with Shadle Park emerging with a 14-11 lead.
A pair of scoring drives into the lane by Sunnyside's Sydnee Hernandez and Vanessa Alvarez sandwiched around a bucket off the fingertips of Shadle Park's Morgan Grier cut the Highlanders' lead to just 16-15 to open the second period. Rodriguez got fouled on the Lady Grizzlies' next possession and hit one of the two free throws, tying it at 16-all.
Junior Winter Hayes, who totaled 13 points on the night, got Shadle Park the lead back on a spinning, twisting move in the lane, but Willingham countered with two free throws on the next change of possession to tie it back up at 18-18.
Senior Kaycee Hert, who finished with 17 points on a not-so-sparkling 5-for-15 effort from the field, pushed into the lane and found the net to get the Highlanders the lead back. Shadle Park never trailed again after that.
Grier, a 5-9 senior, led all Shadle Park scorers last night by canning 18 points. In knocking down 6-of-13 field goal attempts, she tallied 11 of her points in the opening half and the other seven in the third-quarter explosion that did in Sunnyside.
Team-wise, the Highlanders made good on 39 percent of their shots from the field (28-for-71), and were 19-for-28 from the foul line. Sunnyside shot at a 35 percent clip from the open court, making 20-of-57 shots. The Lady Grizzlies were 18-for-29 from the free throw line.
Puente said despite absorbing the loss last night, "Our girls played their hearts out. They could have rolled over, but they fought to the end."
Last night's season-ending loss leaves Sunnyside with an overall mark of 11-10 on the season, although the Lady Grizzlies were well above .500 in CBBN play this year, finishing third in the league with a 9-6 record.
The Sunnyside squad learned prior to last night's game that its top scorer this season, the sophomore Rodriguez, was named the CBBN's player of the year. It was also announced early yesterday that Alvarez earned CBBN second team all-league honors, and that Willingham was afforded honorable mention honors in conference play this season. Also, both Rodriguez and Alvarez have been named to the CBBN's all-league defensive team.