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Conference title showdown looms

Sunnyside freshman Emilee Maldonado pushes her way past Alexis Perez of Davis in Friday’s hoop game on the Lady Grizzlies’ home court. Maldonado scored a game-high 17 points for Sunnyside.

Sunnyside freshman Emilee Maldonado pushes her way past Alexis Perez of Davis in Friday’s hoop game on the Lady Grizzlies’ home court. Maldonado scored a game-high 17 points for Sunnyside. Photo by Rod Smith.

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GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL

Assuming the unlikely doesn’t happen in the final stages of conference play, the Valentine’s Day match-up between Sunnyside and Moses Lake will be for all the marbles.

The Lady Grizzlies positioned themselves for that probable league title tilt on Feb. 14 by sweeping aside a pair of heavyweights this past weekend.

Saturday, the Sunnyside girls basketball team dispatched a pesky Wenatchee crew, gutting out a 56-46 win over the Panthers. Vanessa Alvarez, Selena Rubalcava and Natalia Bazan led the Lady Grizzly charge by combining for 35 points.

The key game this past weekend, however, was Friday’s showdown against the visiting Davis Pirates. The two clubs were tied for the No. 2 spot in the Big Nine League standings heading into the contest. Yet, the Pirates were the prohibitive favorites based on them having beaten Sunnyside twice earlier this season.

Undeterred, the Lady Grizzlies turned in a true team effort and eventually shredded Davis, 72-55.

Keying the rout was the foursome of Alvarez, Rubalcava, Jordan Rodriguez and Emilee Maldonado. Each of those four scored in double figures.

The two teams fought to a 9-9 deadlock early on. Sunnyside first showed signs of pulling away when Rodriguez drained two free throws, which was quickly followed by an Alvarez steal and a length-of-the-court drive that resulted in a lay-up, giving the Lady Grizzlies a 13-9 lead.

After shutting down Davis on the ensuing possession, Alvarez hit another bucket from under the hoop on a pinpoint feed from Rubalcava, upping Sunnyside’s advantage to 15-9.

Alvarez, the only senior on Sunnyside’s roster, went on to pop in 12 points against the Pirates.

The Lady Grizzlies closed out the final minute and a half of the opening quarter with a flourish, thanks chiefly to the freshman Maldonado. The pint-sized underclassman drilled two foul shots to give her team a 17-10 lead. On the next trip back down the floor Maldonado stopped and popped from the left wing, from just outside the 3-point arc, banging in the howitzer to up Sunnyside’s lead to 20-10. Davis got a basket on its next possession, but Maldonado countered with 12 seconds showing on the first-quarter clock. She snaked her way into the paint amidst heavy traffic and delivered an underhanded scoop shot, good for another two points.

Maldonado ended up as the top scorer in the game, tossing in 17 points.

The Lady Grizzlies opened the second period with a 12-3 run, blanking Davis for the first three minutes and 10 seconds of that quarter. The key to that surge was freshman Jessica Mendoza. Fresh off the bench to help rest some of the starters, Mendoza was all over the court…dishing assists, rebounding, scoring and serving as floor general.

The primary beneficiary of Mendoza’s court leadership was the junior Rubalcava. The long-bomb specialist found herself open on back-to-back plays, hitting a trey and then a two-pointer to increase Sunnyside’s lead to 34-17. Rubalcava added yet another 3-pointer with 2:20 remaining in the half to give the Lady Grizzlies a swelling 37-20 advantage.

Trailing 39-22 at the break, Davis took the floor after intermission and seemed poised to make a game of it. With the Pirates’ two post players – 5’10” Jennifer Morales and 5’9” Sydni Billups – making noise, Davis began slugging it out with the host Lady Grizzlies.

But, just as the momentum appeared to be shifting, Sunnyside’s floor general – Rodriguez – knocked down a trey. The 3-pointer gave the Lady Grizzlies a comfortable 47-26 lead.

The 5’8” Rodriguez, who last season as a sophomore was named the Big Nine League player of the year, stepped up several more times in the late going with key shots each time the Pirates attempted a rally.

Rodriguez came away with 16 points last Friday.

The final dagger that signaled the end for the Pirates came with just under two minutes to play in the third period. Rubalcava launched and drained a 3-pointer that put her club up 56-34, then took a pass from a teammate on Sunnyside’s next trip down the floor and worked her way past the Pirates’ tall timber inside the key for a lay-up and a 58-34 lead.

The 5’5” Rubalcava tallied 13 points in the victory.

The Pirates made a furious fourth-quarter push, but by only outscoring Sunnyside by a 16-12 margin in the final stanza, Davis came up well short.

The Pirates got 15 points apiece from Billups and Morales, as well as 11 and 10-point efforts from Payton Greene and Alexis Perez, respectively.

In explaining how his team nailed down Friday’s victory, after losing twice to the Pirates earlier this season, SHS Coach Rick Puente said his girls were extremely pumped.

“The girls really wanted this one,” he said.

“This time around we took much better control of the ball.

“Also, we didn’t have any miscues late in the game like the last time we played Davis.

“And, the girls this time around took advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves,” Puente said.

The following night at home against Wenatchee, the Lady Grizzlies had a slim two-point lead heading into the final period. Rubalcava stepped up big down the stretch, though, dropping in 8 of Sunnyside’s 18 fourth-quarter points. Two of her buckets at the end came from behind the 3-point arc.

Puente said it wasn’t that big of a surprise that his team only won by 10.

“Wenatchee is a solid team,” he said. “They play everybody tough.”

Ali Shelby and Myra Chandler led the Panthers with 15 and 12 points, respectively.

Sunnyside got 12 points apiece from Alvarez and Rubalcava, and another 11 from Bazan. Alvarez, too, had a game-high six steals, with the freshman Maldonado adding a seven-rebound, six-point performance.

Sunnyside (9-3, 13-3) is scheduled to host the Hanford Falcons in a non-league match-up this coming Tuesday. This coming weekend the Lady Grizzlies have just one conference game on tap, that scheduled for Friday at Eisenhower, which is just 3-8 in league play.

The Friday, Feb. 14, game against Moses Lake, which sits atop the Big Nine standings at 10-2, will be played on Sunnyside’s home court. The two league leaders split their two games earlier this season.

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