With the lights at their brightest and a talented Benson side making a late charge, the pressure was on for the Willcox boys basketball team at McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
But guards Damon Dunlap and Chris Granado kept their cool in the waning minutes to give the small Southern Arizona school a 53-50 win against the rival Bobcats (16-3) to open the MLK Classic.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m at a loss of words for you,” said Dunlap, who had a game-high 20 points. “We really worked hard on this win and we had a lot of effort, and that’s what got us on top.”
Willcox, ranked 18th in Division IV, fell into an early hole against Benson — the No. 5 team in Division III — trailing 14-5 after the first quarter. Willcox coach Ted Dunlap, Damon’s father, said he had to start “kicking and screaming” to get the team going.
The Cowboys (11-9) gained its first lead in the second quarter and led by eight with six minutes left in the game. Benson seniors Sean Brogan and Cody Wilson both hit threes in the last minute, but Granado hit five of six free throws to ice it.
Willcox’s victory also marked the first for a men’s side sitting on the visitor bench in McKale Center this season— and coincidentally it came against a team with “Cats” in its nickname.
“We hope nobody else does,” Ted Dunlap said about No. 1-ranked Arizona’s perfect 18-0 start. “We hope that they keep the streak going.”
Cienega 71, Mountain View 50: Cienega, the No. 8 team in Division II, didn’t always play like one of Southern Arizona’s best against Mountain View (5-12). The Bobcats (14-4) eventually found their rhythm, though, beating the Mountain Lions to secure their ninth victory in 10 games.
“We could have played better defense, which caused us to get into foul trouble, but we did everything we could to get the ‘W,’” said Cienega’s Terrence Johnson, who had 16 points a night after scoring a career-high (30) in a win at Sabino.
Terrence Johnson and guard Shane Burton combined for 19 in the second half and gave the Bobcats a win on a big stage as they prepare for a game against No. 2 Sahuaro on Thursday.
After a slow start, Pueblo finally settled into the nerve-racking McKale environment to take down Sunnyside 43-30.
“Their stomachs settled, the butterflies went away or something because they just settled into the offense,” Pueblo coach Ismael Galindo said.
Pueblo used two runs, one in the third (9-0) and one in the fourth (11-0), to beat a scrappy Sunnyside (3-17) team for the second time this season. Senior Idalis Galindo had a game-high 10 points, as the Warriors (7-8) had five players score at least seven points.
“It’s just a really cool experience,” Idalis Galido said. “My last year in high school I get to play here. ... It’s a big deal.”
Proving themselves as the top team in town, Sunnyside was able to secure second place Saturday at the 36-team Flowing Wells Invitational.
Down a handful of points after the first day, the Blue Devils were unable to close the gap against Mesa Mountain View despite individual titles from William Olivas (128 pounds) and Gabriel Gonzales (197).
Other Southern Arizona wrestlers to take home individual titles were Ironwood Ridge’s Danny Vega (108) and Flowing Wells’ Jorge Felix (287).
Read more about the event in Monday’s Star.