TACOMA – Maybe it was the early start. Or it could have been playing for the third time in three days, and the second in less than 24 hours.
Whatever the reason, the Sunnyside Grizzlies were out of sorts at the start of the 3A fourth-place game on Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
A simple message from their coaches at halftime snapped the Grizzles back and propelled Sunnyside to a 56-42 victory over upstart University.
“We told them at halftime, ‘Just do us,’ ” Sunnyside coach Rick Puente said. “Go back to us. Us is being efficient. Us is outworking people.”
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When the third quarter began, Sunnyside did just that.
Defensively, the Grizzlies (23-4) shut down University (11-16). The Titans didn’t make a field goal during the entire third quarter, managing only four free throws in a 21-4 reversal that turned a 27-25 lead into a 46-31 deficit entering the fourth quarter.
On the offensive end, Sunnyside shot nearly 50 percent from the field in the second half. The Grizzlies made 13 of 27 shots, and once they built the big lead, never led by less than 13 points again.
“That’s probably not the team you want to play on the last day of the tournament,” University coach Mark Stinson said. “They have their great shooters. But they also have good shooters. It’s just hard to cover everybody.”
Sunnyside completed its most successful girls basketball season in the school’s history.
The fourth-place finish is the highest ever for the program. The 23 wins are the most in the program’s history.
So, are these Grizzlies the best team ever at Sunnyside?
“By record, yes,” Puente said. “I’m a big sports fan, so I hate to use the term ‘best.’ Teams don’t play each other. But we have the most wins ever, and a fourth. We will hang our hats on that for a while.”
“Last 16 minutes of the season, we had to play our hearts out,” said Selena Rubalcava, who scored eight of her 11 points in the second half. “This feels amazing. We put a lot of work into it.”
Natalia Bazan led the Grizzlies with 16 points and seven rebounds. Emilee Maldonado also scored in double figures for Sunnyside, with 10 points.
Ashley Woods led University with 14 points and five rebounds. No other Titan managed to score in double figures.
“We all wanted fourth place,” Bazan said. “When one person is struggling, we try to pick each other up and get the win. Thursday was a really tough loss. We just had to get the highest we could get.”