LACEY - Appearances can be deceiving, like the lightly regarded 12-10 Evergreen Lutheran squad the Sunnyside Christian boys played last Saturday night with a trip to State on the line.
The Knights came into the loser-out Regional contest at Lacey's Timerbline High School with a State ranking and a 23-2 season mark, but struggled before finally pulling away for a 63-47 win.
The final score may have been by a comfortable margin, but the first half was anything but as the Eagles and Knights had six lead changes before Sunnyside Christian finally gained a 31-27 advantage at the break.
"Our defense was not great in the first half," said Sunnyside Christian Coach Brian Bosma. "Defensively we came out harder in some of our other games."
Bosma said there was a sense that his team may have overlooked the Eagles, but that all changed when Evergreen Lutheran shot 50 percent from the field in the opening half to just a 30 percent clip for the Knights.
Sunnyside Christian flipped the script in the second half, helped by a switch to a man-to-man defense.
Evergreen Lutheran's Andrew Goyins, for example, had 13 first-half points. In the second half, though, Bosma assigned Drew Puterbaugh to cover Goyins and the result was holding him to just two points.
While Sunnyside Christian found its defensive intensity in the second half, holding the Eagles to just 36 percent shooting over the final two quarters, the Knights also discovered a shooting touch in knocking down 48 percent of their second-half attempts.
Alex Brouwer was a rock for the Knights Saturday. The senior made the most of a six-inch height advantage over Evergreen Christian freshman Jeffery Parker to the tune of 26 points.
"They were matched up most of the game, so we isolated and let him (Brouwer) try to score," Bosma said. The strategy worked as Brouwer, normally a perimeter shooter, did most of his damage on drives to the hoop or lay-ups. "He only attempted one 3-point shot," Bosma noted.
But it was defense that Sunnyside Christian used to put the game away, forcing 12 turnovers while only committing two miscues. On the offensive glass the Knights held a 20-10 rebounding advantage on the way to attempting 21 more shots than the Eagles.
Brandon Broersma and Brant Bosma scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Knights.
Parker was Evergreen Lutheran's high scorer with 18 points.
With the win, Sunnyside Christian (24-2) advances to State for the 15th consecutive year.
The Knights will play the State 1B boys tourney opener this coming Thursday at 3:45 p.m. against Columbia Adventist at the Spokane Arena.
Those two teams tussled a week ago in a seeding contest at Regionals. That game was not a loser-out affair, and with scouts from opposing Regional schools looking on both teams substituted literally. Sunnyside Christian prevailed easily.
This time is different as now a State trophy is in sight. Both teams will be playing full bore for 32 miutes in Spokane.
"There's a whole new level of intensity in this one," Bosma says.
The coach also notes he's happy to play the tourney's first game and that's it's an afternoon tilt...sort of a mid-afternoon snack bracket rather than the 9 a.m. breakfast bracket Sunnyside Christian faced last year.
"It's nice to get the game in and enjoy the rest of the games without being anxious," he said.