SUNNYSIDE Sunnyside High School varsity boys basketball players learned a valuable lesson during their season home opening game against Walla Walla on Thursday night.
The Grizzlies were taught that the letter “T” in the word team stands for togetherness and not turnovers as they were schooled on the hardwood by the Blue Devils 49-63.
“Our players are going to have to learn to trust each other,” SHS Boys Varsity Head Coach Bruce Siebol stated.
He saw moments of when his team played together and how offensively-skilled they were when the ball movement traveled from side to side and allowed for everyone to become more involved on the scoring end.
Siebol said, “Just trusting each other that our young kids are going to be good. They’re good. You’ve got to trust them that they will get the job done.”
And, some of our older kids don’t trust them yet.
SHS sophomore Daniel Singleterry led the team in scoring with 19, freshman Alex Lopez contributed 10 and junior Ethan Copeland chipped in 9 points and 3 rebounds for the upstart Grizzlies.
“We had too many turnovers,” declared Siebol. “Walla Walla is a good basketball team. There’s nothing wrong with that team.”
Senior Javon Handcox was the game’s leading scorer with 24 for the bigger, taller and more physical Blue Devils.
Seven, first quarter turnovers contributed to the Grizzly’s 10-point deficit as they trailed 9-19 entering the second quarter.
“We had a lot of turnovers and everyone was trying to play one on one basketball,” SHS junior Airik Palacios said.
The Grizzlies had scored one basket in the first 3:16 of the second quarter and were down by double digits, trailing 12-24.
The SHS cheer team’s sideline stomp ignited a sense of urgency that reverberated throughout the Grizzly Den. The hometown hoops crowd joined in with their vocal encouragement that echoed for the team to bear down defensively and stop the visitors’ 5-2 scoring run.
As the ball movement picked up in rhythm with the enthusiastic crowd, the ball found its way to Singleterry. He drove past the defender and right into the heart of the collapsing Walla Walla defense.
Once contact was initiated in the paint, the sophomore powered up a basket and was fouled. After making the free throw for a three-point play, the Grizzlies went on a 9-3 spurt to make it 21-27 with 1:24 remaining in the opening half.
The offense appeared to be in sync as the ball was moving around the perimeter without any individual hesitation.
After the Grizzlies knocked down a couple of shots, the Blue Devils were forced to stretch out their defense to the three-point line.
Walla Walla’s length seemed to provide the Grizzlies with an instant excuse for not closing out the quarter with a team first focus.
They returned to playing more one-on-one and the Blue Devils closed out the quarter strong by scoring the last four points to lead 31-20 at halftime.
Following intermission, the Grizzlies did not score a point until Gabe Oswalt hit a free throw to stop a 6-0 Blue Devil run halfway through the third quarter and make it a 22-37 deficit.
Sunnyside’s defense shut down the Blue Devils for the remainder of the third period as the offense finally got on track.
Senior Derrick Escamilla scored their first field goal at 5:16 and the Grizzlies scored eight unanswered points to pull within 30-37 going into the final quarter.
Siebol acknowledged that he was impressed by the team’s overall effort, as well as the ability to maintain their composure when they continued to turn the ball over.
“We weren’t moving the ball, so they didn’t have to play defense and got easy buckets on offense. We’ve got to get our fundamentals right and work as a team,” Palacios said.
Seven points was as close as the Grizzlies would get.
With 3:58 left in the fourth, down 42-49, the Blue Devils outscored Sunnyside 14-7 and won the season opener.
“We kept biting ourselves in the foot after we would make a good run and then we would just go back to some individual play,” the coach explained.
Turnovers and inconsistent team play resulted in a tough lesson for the youthful Grizzlies. Trust comes from experience of playing together and for this team, like their coach said, it’s a process which must be learned.