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Lady Grizzlies move up to No. 2 spot in CBBN

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Sunnyside sophomore Selena Rubalcava drives past an Eastmont defender in last Friday's CBBN game. Rubalcava paced the Lady Grizzlies with a team-high 16 points in their 61-57 victory over the Wildcats. Rubalcava also had three steals and three assists in the game. She also scored in double figures the following night against Davis, canning 10 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists.

Snapping a three-game losing streak, the Sunnyside High School girls basketball team claimed a pair of Columbia Basin Big Nine League victories this past weekend.

The 61-57 win over Eastmont on Friday and the 62-37 pasting of the Davis Pirates on Saturday improved the Lady Grizzlies' conference record to 4-2. Sunnyside is now tied for the No. 2 spot in the CBBN standings, trailing only Moses Lake (5-1) by half a game.

Both of Sunnyside's wins came on its home court this past weekend.

Friday against the Wildcats, Sunnyside used the quickness and agility of junior Vanessa Alvarez to jump out to an early lead. She threw in eight points to spark a 22-11 first-quarter run by the Lady Grizzlies.

"A couple of coast-to-coast steals, a couple of great outlet passes to her...Vanessa turned them into some pretty quick baskets.

"(Alvarez), because of her quickness, does a great job in the open court," said SHS Coach Rick Puente.

Eastmont cut into the Lady Grizzlies' lead in the second quarter, going into the locker room down by just five at the half.

But with the double-digit scoring of Selena Rubalcava, who finished with a team-high 16 points, and getting 12 apiece from Alvarez, Monique Willingham and Jordan Rodriguez, Sunnyside regained control after the halftime break and built a 45-34 third-quarter lead.

The Wildcats, however, weren't about to fold their tent. Riding the hot hand of point guard Nikki Gilbert, Eastmont fought back and made it a one-point game. Gilbert scorched the net for 27 points on Friday, 14 of those coming in the last period.

"Gilbert, she's quick and witty," said Puente. "And, she knows how to draw fouls," noting that the 'Cat dropped in 9-of-11 from the charity stripe last Friday, eight of those makes coming in the pivotal fourth quarter.

Clinging to just a one-point lead in the late going, Sunnyside stiffened down the stretch. "Our girls had to dig deep," Puente said. "They withstood some runs.

"Our girls, I thought, showed a lot of poise when it counted," he added.

Defensively, it was Rubalcava and Rodriguez who turned away several of Eastmont's scoring threats, as each came through with a team-high three steals.

Another big factor for Sunnyside was the play of the 5'10" Willingham. She snatched a career-best 18 rebounds from the glass. Coupled with the eight caroms gathered in by Rodriguez and the seven loose balls Alvarez collected, the Lady Grizzlies outboarded Eastmont by a 39 to 21 margin.

Willingham also played a big part in Sunnyside's 62-37 runaway victory over Davis on Saturday. The SHS junior scraped 15 rebounds from the glass, and finished as the Lady Grizzlies' No. 2 scorer in the game with a 13-point performance.

Puente said the inside presence that Willingham provides in the paint gives the Lady Grizzlies another dimension to their game.

"Her inside presence definitely helps out. Monique's weak-side rebounding, along with Tiana Perez's play on the strong-side block, together makes us pretty strong under the boards," he said.

Sunnyside, too, got some great rebounding efforts from the likes of Rodriguez and Rubalcava with eight and seven boards, respectively, and a combined 11 rebounds from Alvarez and Perez.

Just as important against Davis on Saturday was the defensive pressure applied by the Lady Grizzlies. Celia Vargas came up with a team-high four steals, and collectively, Sunnyside limited the Pirates to just 12-of-59 field goal shooting.

"One of our goals is to not let the other team catch-and-shoot," said Puente. "We want to force them to shoot off the dribble, which is uncomfortable for most players.

"We were able to achieve that against Davis by reacting to the ball when it was in the air, not reacting after the ball was already in their hands. Basically...it's about anticipating, and our girls did a great job of that Saturday," Puente said.

The Pirates didn't have a single player score in double figures. Katie Fowler settled for a game-high eight points in the losing cause.

Sunnyside only had a 31-27 lead at the half against the Pirates, but held Davis to just 10 points in the second half to account for the blowout. Leading Sunnyside's offensive charge were Rodriguez with a game-high 22 points, who knocked down three of the Lady Grizzlies' five shots from treyland, and Willingham and Rubalcava with 13 and 10 points, respectively.

The win was somewhat surprising, considering Davis, on its home court back in early December, prevailed by a 78-67 margin over the Lady Grizzlies. The two teams will meet a third time towards the end of this month.

From an offensive standpoint this past weekend, Sunnyside's girls shot at a 39 percent clip from the field against Eastmont (25-for-64) and made good on 46 percent of their shots against Davis (24-for-52). From the foul line, the Lady Grizzlies struggled a bit, going a combined 15-for-37 in the two games. Sunnyside's assists leader in the two games was Rubalcava, who along with Rodriguez dished three on Friday, and had a team-best four assists on Saturday.

Sunnyside (4-2, 6-5) is looking for its second win of the season against Wenatchee this coming Friday. The Lady Grizzlies, after hosting the Panthers Friday night, will take to the road on Saturday for another CBBN game in the Eisenhower gym.

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