BASKETBALL: Sunnyside girls open playoffs

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 11, 2013 

Rick Puente’s first season as the head girls basketball coach at Sunnyside High was a forgettable one.

The Grizzlies struggled to a 1-19 record, finishing last in the CBBN in 2010-11.

Despite the poor performance, Puente knew he had a strong crop of kids coming up and with some hard work, figured it would pay off.

And has it ever.

Sunnyside (11-9 overall) has put together a strong season, finishing third in the CBBN and capturing the No. 2 seed for the Class 3A District 5/8 Tournament which starts tonight.

The Grizzlies will host Shadle Park (11-9) at 6 p.m. in an elimination game.

“It’s definitely rewarding,” Puente said. “It’s a great payoff for all the time my coaching staff and I have put in, but I couldn’t be happier for the girls. They put in the same amount of time. They worked really hard. I couldn't be happier for them in what they are experiencing.”

Led by sophomore Jordan Rodriguez, the Grizzlies have overcome major injuries and a lack of experience to ride the wave to the No. 2 seed.

“We’re very excited to be up here,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been pushing really hard in practice and we just want to get as far as we can, without any doubts in our mind of going backward.”

Rodriguez, a shooting guard by trade, was forced to take over point guard duties when Natalia Bazan and Celia Vargas – the starting and backup point guards – went down with knee injuries.

“The girls have really stepped up to the challenge,” Puente said. “We have asked them to play some positions they don't normally play and here we are. We got ourselves that second seed.”

They earned that spot based on their winning percentage in the CBBN, which was higher than Hanford's winning percentage in the Mid-Columbia Conference.

The No. 2 seed is coveted because it means a home game against a Greater Spokane League team, rather than traveling to Spokane.

“We have a good group of girls that really like to play with each other and get along with each other,” Puente said. “There is a good nucleus that just gel well and it has paid off for them on the court. They have played a ton of basketball and it has just come together.”

Sunnyside also relies on post Monique Willingham, as well as Vanessa Alvarez and Selena Rubalcava.

While the Grizzlies haven't had much success over the past few years, the team knew if they put the time in a playoff spot was in their grasp.

“We were a little surprised from the past, but we've worked extremely hard to be here,” Rodriguez said. “We have a lot of talent that wasn't brought out before. We have really pushed each other these past few years to go all out.”

w Kennewick (8-12) at Mt. Spokane (12-8): The Lions have surged late in the season, knocking off rival Southridge in an elimination game Friday to earn a spot tonight. It's been a strong showing for Kennewick in Oliver Browning's first-year as head coach for the Lions. Senior post Panisesi Taimani will need to have a big night for the Lions to have a chance at the upset.

w Hanford (10-10) at University (11-9): The Falcons will need a big night from post Colette Gall as always, but will also need Sydney Shintaffer and Savanna Steele to score from the outside to provide some balance. Hanford seemed to have the No. 2 seed locked down late in the season, but lost at home to Kennewick to fall to No. 3.

w North Central (2-18) at Kamiakin (15-5): The Braves scuffled down the stretch a bit, but look for them to turn it up a notch now that the playoffs are here. Kamiakin has struggled with some injuries, but look for Courtney Nelson to take control for the Braves.

Boys districts

w Mt. Spokane (7-13) at Hanford (15-5), 7 p.m.: The Falcons are the hottest team in the MCC, having won its last five — including road wins at Richland and Kamiakin. The Wildcats, who have lost four in a row, have to find a way to temper Hanford senior post Joe Douglas, a force of nature on the low block, and keep guard Jalen DeVine in check. The Falcons will keep an eye on Mt. Spokane’s super sophomore, Stu Stiles, who averaged 18.8 points a game.

w Rogers (4-16) at Kamiakin (15-5), 8 p.m.: The Pirates needed a win after losing 7 of 8 games heading into districts, but they got what they needed, a runaway victory over North Central to turn the corner. Amaujae Daniels, Rogers’ junior guard, has been spectacular at 22.1 points a game. Meanwhile, the Braves will be highly motivated for a third consecutive trip to state. Guards Cooper Clyde, John Petsch and Kylle Robertson have provided most of the scoring punch since Javan Williams went down with an injury.

w Kennewick (5-16) at University (13-7), 8 p.m.: The Lions got a huge momentum-builder, topping Southridge on a last-second jumper to grab the last district spot. Mitchell Mueller and Devven Ramos are the ones to watch, giving Kennewick a sharpshooting threat and a defensive stopper. Ramos will be tested, however, against the GSL’s top scorer Brett Bailey (24.5 pts).

w Sunnyside at Shadle Park (11-9), 6 p.m.: The Grizzlies are hoping to keep a nice postseason run going for coach Ron Rowe, who had to step down at midseason with health issues. George Pilimai and Skyler Kelley average 11.5 points for the Highlanders.

— Jack Millikin contributed to this story

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