State basketball excellence, no matter the B classification, has been a benchmark at Sunnyside Christian.
The Knights reached a state final for the seventh time Friday night with a 50-44 win over Almira/Coulee-Hartline, the fourth in five years of 1B where they have half of their six state championships, all but one under coach Dean Wagenaar.
Their foe tonight is Neah Bay, a 63-60 winner over Colton, a team making its 16th state tournament but first finals appearance with a first-year coach in Gerrad Brown.
The teams broke the hearts of the area teams in taut contests and meet today for the title in the Spokane Arena. ACH and Colton play for third and fifth
For the second straight year the defending champion Knights of Sunnyside Christian advanced at the Warriors’ expense. Last year the team overcame a 19-point deficit in the quarterfinals to win at the buzzer.
This time their size, structure and athleticism flummoxed the Warriors for three quarters Friday night during the semifinals at the Spokane Arena, building an 11-point lead early into the fourth.
But then it appeared something magical was about to happen for ACH. The Warriors tied the game at 44 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. But Sunnyside Christian answered and turnovers ended in game-clinching free throws.
“I’m proud we got in a spot to win it,” ACH coach Scott Isaak said. “But when you play teams like that (with the size and bulk of the Knights), it’s like a David and Goliath situation and you have to go with the stone.”
Sunnyside Christian’s deliberate play suited its athletic players, including 6-foot-6, 6-5 and 6-2 on the floor who can move and shoot. Trevor Wagenaar, the coach’s son, used his 6-2 size to get to the basket, scoring 10 first-half points. When ACH doubled him, 6-5 Kevin DeJong took over in the second half, while 6-6 Steven Broersma dominated the boards.
But the Warriors forced numerous turnovers with frenzied pressure in the final period and Derek Isaak shot them back into the game with nine points.
Wagenaar sank two free throws for a four-point lead with 14 seconds remaining and DeJong added insurance.
“We survived,” coach Wagenaar said.
He added that his is a team that can run or play with patience. “We do that when we think we have an advantage. I know after coaching this long you have to be very efficient in the half-court game to win state.”
In Neah Bay’s 63-60 victory over Colton the harassing Devils used their defensive quickness for the second straight night to disrupt a foe. They couldn’t handle Dustin Patchen, who scored 31 points inside, and Josh Straughan added five 3-pointers. They had all but 13 of Colton’s points.
The Red Devils extended their defense, forcing the ball to Patchen, who responded with 14-for-19 shooting. But the victors had a nose for rebounding and found numerous and creative ways to score in a loosely officiated contest. Primary was Drexler Doherty with 23 points, including four 3-pointers and 5-for-6 free-throw shooting.
“From Day One I told these boys they could do it,” Brown said. “The years I’ve been watching them play, only the discipline was lacking. I saw the talent they had. We’ve emphasized defense all year because that’s what wins championships. They have a spirit that won’t die.”