Just a month after getting blown out by 21 points at home by Sahuaro, the Sunnyside boys basketball team began the Division II, Section II tournament with an ugly, grind-it-out 34-31 win against the same Cougars on Wednesday.
An upset, sure, but the Blue Devils win was just another typical game in Division II’s deepest section — and probably its best.
“When your three and four seeds are (No. 14) Sunnyside and (No. 8) Cienega, I think it says a lot about your section, as to how good we are,” Sahuaro coach Jim Henry said. “When a team like No. 13 Sabino doesn’t even get into the sectional tournament, I think we have one of the better sections in the state of Arizona.”
Sunnyside will face Cienega in the sectional championship game on Saturday at Cholla High School after the Bobcats used a barrage of threes to beat top-seeded Sierra Vista Buena 54-39.
Sunnyside sophomore Jacob Inclan, who had a game-high 14 points Wednesday, said the tough section has especially helped the young Blue Devils learn on the job.
“As a young team playing against (Cienega’s) Terrence Johnson, all of these guys, they’re all good players,” Inclan said. “There’s not one bad player out here. We’re all fighting for it.”
The section’s top-ranked team — No. 7 Sahuaro — doesn’t have the profile as some of the other top-heavy sections, like No. 2 Salpointe Catholic and No. 4 Catalina Foothills in Section VI. But the depth is unmatched, as five teams are in the top 14, and No. 25 Amphitheater is likely the first team out of the state playoffs.
“It’s a pretty damn good section,” said Buena coach Dave Glasgow, whose No. 11 Colts had just one loss in section before Wednesday night. “Hopefully it’ll pay off for us down the line.”
Both Sunnyside coach Rob Harrison and Cienega coach Matt Johnson used the phrase “battle-tested” to describe their teams after surviving the regular-season grind of Section II.
As evidence, the Bobcats somehow entered sectionals as underdogs, having lost to all three teams during the season, despite holding a 22-5 overall record and wins over Catalina Foothills and three out-of-state opponents.
Senior Shane Burton, who leads Cienega in assists (3.7) and steals (2.7), said he enjoyed coming in as an underdog — especially with the chance for payback.
“It’s revenge with any team we play in this tournament; that’s why we love it,” Burton said. “That’s why we’re so pumped up to play in here.”
The winner between Sunnyside and Cienega will receive a first-round bye in the state playoffs next week, but all four teams plus Sabino are locks to qualify.
Plus, if things break correctly, Section II and Southern Arizona as a whole could be well represented deep into the playoffs.
“I would not be surprised if you see three or four teams from Southern Arizona in the final four,” Henry said.