SUNNYSIDE The No. 1 seeded Lady Griz (12-0, 20-2) won the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) District 6 “4A” Girls Basketball championship with a gritty defensive performance in their 46-39 victory over visiting No. 2 Moses Lake (10-2, 14-8) on Saturday night.
“We knew that we were going to have to dig in on defense. Because it’s always a tough match-up with Moses Lake and a great game,” SHS Head Coach Rick Puente stated. “We just flat out played defense tonight. Our defense won us the game!”
After defeating No. 4 Eisenhower (2-10, 4-6) 72-44 in the opening playoff round at home on Friday, Sunnyside was poised to defend their Big 9 Athletic Conference crown and win the District championship in the same season.
Before the start of the season, the Lady Grizzlies had been focused on attaining this team objective. For senior Ashlee Maldonado, she sought to accomplish this goal for the first time in her distinguished, four-year career.
“Moses Lake is a team that I’ve always wanted to beat. I knew they were going to be really strong coming in, and we would have to match their level, and we definitely did. It was a whole team effort, and I couldn’t be any happier,” Maldonado exclaimed with an emotional charge of championship excitement.
Both teams played physical as Sunnyside led 26-23 at halftime. Having faced each other for the fourth time this season, the Lady Chiefs were well prepared by Head Coach Matt Strophy to challenge the league champs and prevent the Grizzlies from hoisting the District trophy and cutting down their homecourt net.
Following halftime and the start of the third quarter, Moses Lake came out of the intermission determined to contest every Sunnyside shot and make the favored home court team feel the pressure of playing in the big game moment.
The Lady Chiefs held the Grizzlies to 6 points in the period and were tied at 32 heading into the final eight minutes. The conference rivalry had lived up to the pregame expectations and would be determined by the team who had the drive to knock down free throws and a resolve to take charge on the defensive end.
“When it comes down to the end of the game, we just really need to take care of the ball,” Maldonado explained. “The girls know that they’ve got to get the ball into my hands where I can create opportunities for everyone.”
Maldonado scored a game-high 22 points, making four field goals, connecting on two 3-point shots and hitting on 8-of-12 from the free throw line.
She told her teammates to be ready for the kick.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of pressure on me and I’m going to try and do what I can. But, if you’re open, I’m going to hit you with the ball at that spot.”
Driving from the left wing into the paint where three Lady Chiefs defenders surrounded Maldonado, she kept her dribble alive in splitting the triple team.
The versatile wing player found senior Carla Cardenas cutting backdoor on the weak side with a pinpoint pass for a two-point layup with about four minutes remaining to give the Grizzlies a 37-34 lead.
“Ashlee’s got some broad shoulders. She’s willing to carry that weight, and she knocked down some big shots,” Puente said as he pointed out Maldonado’s leadership talents that empower the team’s overall ability to shine when challenged.
Junior Kameran Rodriguez added eight points and was perfectly clutch from the charity stripe, shooting 6-of-6 down the stretch and 8-of-8 for the game. Cardenas and freshman Paris Wilson chipped in 5 points each.
The highly accomplished left-handed free throw shooter also took a key charge foul as the Lady Chiefs were on the offensive attack and trying to get within two points or less during the last minute of the game.
Coach Puente recognized Kameran’s ability to know when to step up. She’s done that for us all season. He said there’s not a lot of basketball players that will step in there and take a charge. It takes a special person and she’s one of those.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, senior Brielle Newhouse sealed the championship win with a picture-perfect layup and her first bucket of the game.
“We made some adjustments and adapted to what they were doing. And, it worked… when you can hold a team like Moses Lake to 39 points… man, you did something,” Puente firmly noted. “It wasn’t any of us (the coaches), it was all the girls!”
This would be the last time the SHS seniors would play in the Grizzly den, and Maldonado recognized the importance of rallying her teammates to pick up the defensive intensity prior to the start of the second half.
“I gave them a good spiel of let’s go out hard and strong,” Maldonado soundly voiced. “Let’s do it for each other, and we did it!”
As the buzzer sounded and the horn section from Kool and the Gang’s, “Celebration” commemorated the Lady Grizzlies District 6 Championship and Regional tournament march toward state – an all-around trophy and net cutting, dance party grooved out on the hardwood floor with a retro 80’s and disco beat of ‘Celebrate good times, come on… Let’s Celebrate.’