SPOKANE - The Sunnyside Christian Lady Knights made it to the championship game in the State 1B Hardwood Classic, but couldn't quite finish off the Colton Wildcats despite a very strong performance.
In the end, the score of 55-40 didn't reflect how close the game really was.
The Wildcats had waltzed through the playoffs this year with hardly any challenge, so finding themselves down by 10 in the first quarter against Sunnyside Christian in the 1B State basketball tournament championship game had to be a shock.
"(Colton) are five times State Champions, and you can see why," said Sunnyside Christian Coach Al Smeenk. "They have a great program."
The Lady Knights held their lead until halfway into the second quarter, when the Wildcats managed to take the lead briefly after a missed three-pointer by Lady Knight Stormee Van Belle was rebounded by Colton's Jenna Moser and put away by Jackie Warner.
But the Lady Knights responded and took a 24-21 lead into halftime.
After the half, Colton tied the game on a three-point shot by Raylynn Smith, and although Sunnyside Christian kept the game close, the Lady Knights never again managed to pull ahead.
"We probably ran out of gas," said Smeenk. "We made a few mistakes and they didn't."
A large factor in the game was Colton's ability to sink shots from behind the three-point arc. The Wildcats hit 3-of-4 from treyland in the third quarter alone, keeping them just ahead of the Lady Knights.
Colton also effectively shut down the Lady Knights' two heaviest hitters. Van Belle was held to only 6 points while Kara den Hoed did not score at all. Both played 31 minutes of the game, and Van Belle grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked four shots, stole the ball twice and dished out four assists.
"They told the Spokane media that they were going to have to shut down Stormee and Kara, and they did," said Smeenk. "They decided to run us. We only have seven players to their 12, so it was a very good game plan."
Stepping up for the Lady Knights was freshman Katelyn Banks, who had 13 points in the game. Banks sank two three-pointers, including one that took back the lead in the second quarter after a steal by Rita Dalrymple and a three-point attempt by den Hoed.
Dalrymple also turned in a fine performance for the Lady Knights, bucketing 8 points and pulling down seven caroms off the glass. Sunnyside Christian's Annie Brouwer had 6 points and three assists while Brittany Broersma canned 4 points and blocked a shot.
Sunnyside Christian cut Colton's lead to a single point twice in the final quarter, but almost every shot by the Wildcats in the final six minutes of the game sniffed out the bottom of the basket, while the Lady Knights missed several chances.
"Right at the end they went on a 20-6 run...that finished the game," said Smeenk. "They had some defensive steals that led to easy baskets and some three-point shots that rolled around before going in. The wheels fell off for us."
Saturday's playoff game was just the third time in school history the Lady Knights have made it to the State title game. They haven't yet won a title.
"We ran into a juggernaut," said Smeenk.
Friday's semi-final game was a different story for Sunnyside Christian. The Pateros Nannies were no match for the Lady Knights, who finished the game with a 40-point lead, 78-38.
"It was unbelievable," said Smeenk. "I didn't think it would be that easy."
Sunnyside Christian jumped out to a 28-15 lead in the first quarter behind a solid offensive effort spearheaded by den Hoed. The Lady Knights never looked back, sinking 75 percent of their field goal attempts in the second period and 60 percent in the fourth.
"Defensively we knew what we had to do and we did it," said Smeenk. "Our girls did a great job running the floor."
Four Lady Knights finished with double-digit point totals, led by Van Belle who had 21 points and 16 rebounds. Van Belle also stole the ball six times, blocked three shots and assisted her teammates four times.
Lady Knight den Hoed bucketed 18 points in the game, while Dalrymple canned another 12 points and Banks dropped in 11 more points.
The Lady Knights finished the season with a 27-1 record. They are graduating two seniors this year, den Hoed and Dalrymple.