YAKIMA – Eleven…that’s the magic number for the Sunnyside Lady Grizzly basketball team.
The SHS girls hoop team earned its 10th Big Nine League victory of the season last Friday night, via a dominating 66-38 decision over Eisenhower on the Cadets’ home floor.
That win leaves the Lady Grizzlies one short of the 11 victories required for Sunnyside to advance into the 3A playoffs as the Columbia Basin’s No. 1 seed. As the top seed, Sunnyside would get to host a loser-out postseason game on Tuesday, March 18, against a far inferior club. Anything less than a No. 1 seeding for the Lady Grizzlies would force them to open the playoffs on the road.
Sunnyside (10-3, 15-3) has two chances remaining to secure that all important 11th conference victory. In closing out league play this coming weekend, the Lady Grizzlies on Friday will host Moses Lake (11-2, 15-3), then will trek to East Wenatchee on Saturday to take on Eastmont (0-13, 0-17).
Even though Eastmont is winless on the season and that game appears to be in the bag for the Lady Grizzlies, SHS Coach Rick Puente said his team isn’t looking ahead to that match-up.
Simply put, Puente’s club wants its 11th league victory to come against conference-leading Moses Lake.
“Our goal all season has been to focus on the game at hand,” he said. “We don’t look ahead or look to the past.
“Moses Lake is next up. That’s the team the girls were talking about right after last Friday’s game at Eisenhower,” said Puente.
In easily dispatching the Cadets (3-9, 3-13) last Friday, Sunnyside jumped out to a 25-6 first-quarter lead – and never looked back.
Sparking the rout early on was junior Jordan Rodriguez. She tossed in 8 of her team-high 14 points in the opening period. The Lady Grizzlies’ floor general also ripped seven loose balls from the glass.
Freshman Jessica Mendoza and junior Selena Rubalcava also scored in double figures for the winners. Mendoza popped in 11 points while coming up with five steals in the game. Rubalcava hit for 10 points.
Junior Tiana Perez, at 5’10” the tallest player on Sunnyside’s roster, added a nifty performance by shoving in 9 points and coming away with a team-high six steals.
Also causing the Cadets problems was 5’2” freshman guard Emilee Maldonado. She led Sunnyside to a 37 to 26 rebounding advantage with a game-high 11 boards. Maldonado, too, chipped in 6 points, as did teammate Natalia Bazan.
By grabbing a big lead early on against Ike, Puente was able to give his reserves, as well as a couple of girls who normally play in JV games, plenty of time on the court last Friday.
In looking ahead to this coming Friday’s showdown against Moses Lake, the fact that Sunnyside will also be playing for the league championship hasn’t exactly escaped the attention of the Lady Grizzly faithful.
“The goal is to come out of district with the number one seed,” said Puente, “But yes, we also know we have an opportunity to win a league championship.”
The last time a Sunnyside girls hoop team locked down a conference crown…well, school officials say they’re not quite sure. Puente said it’s been at least a decade, revealing that a quick search dating back to 2001 did not reveal any such accomplishment.
Winning the Big Nine League title this season won’t be easy, though. Moses Lake will bring a talented crew to Sunnyside, led by the one-two punch of junior McKenna Walker and senior Emily Olson.
Sunnyside and Moses Lake split their first two league games this season. The Lady Grizzlies, on their home floor, won the first encounter back in late December, 83-71. The Chiefs, hosting Sunnyside two weeks ago, returned the favor and defeated the Lady Grizzlies by a score of 67-58.
To come out on top in the rubber match, Puente said Sunnyside needs to be firing on all cylinders.
“We have to show up to play,” he said.
Heading into Friday’s game, Puente said the Lady Grizzlies know they’ll be facing a tough opponent that is fundamentally sound.
“We also know Moses Lake is great at taking advantage of opportunities,” he said, ticking off such areas of concern as letting the Chiefs get to the free throw line and giving them too many open looks at the basket.
In terms of trying to limit Moses Lake’s trips to the charity stripe, Puente said his players aren’t going to quit playing aggressive, in-your-face defense.
“We aren’t going to back down, defensively,” he said. “We’ll go with what’s gotten us here,” but added the focus will be on not committing miscues, or mental mistakes, that allows Moses Lake extra trips to the foul line.
In attempting to take away the Chiefs’ open looks at the basket, Puente said his club will need to “…close out their shooters better than the last time we played them.
“But really, it boils down to us coming out and playing the kind of ball we play.
“We’re going to go with what we know. We’ll adjust to things as they happen.
“But the girls know, they have to be ready to play. They want this,” he said.
Sunnyside 25 15 15 11 -66
Eisenhower 6 12 11 9 -38
2-PT FG – Sunnyside 24/51, Eisenhower 15/44. 3-PT FG – Sunnyside 1/13 (Rodriguez), Eisenhower 0/9. FT – Sunnyside 15/25, Eisenhower 8/11. RBD – Sunnyside 37 (Maldonado 11, Rodriguez 7), Eisenhower 26.
Sunnyside – Alvarez 4, Bazan 6, Lua 2, Rubalcava 10, Maldonado 6, Mendoza 11, Rodriguez 14, Perez 9, Herrera 2, Garcia 2
Eisenhower – Rodriguez 16, Tanyah 1, S. Wammock 6, H. Wammock 3, Bush 3, Batten 4, Burch 5