After the Sunnyside wrestling team beat Ironwood Ridge by 27 points on Tuesday night, coach Anthony Leon had three words for his victorious Blue Devils.
Widen the gap.
Sunnyside beat the visiting Nighthawks 49-22 on senior night to rebound from a disappointing second-place finish behind Mesa Mountain View at the Flowing Wells Invitational just three days earlier.
While the Blue Devils finished with six pins Tuesday night and won seven of the final nine matches, Leon saw plenty of room for improvement. Especially when the ultimate goal is to win a state title next month — something both the Blue Devils and Nighthawks did last year. But only one will have a chance this year.
“We’re always looking for more,” the third-year coach said. “The goal was to come out and wrestle hard for six minutes, and I don’t feel like we did that in some weight classes.
“We need to widen the gap.”
Sunnyside, the defending Division-I team champion, locked up the head-to-head win over I-Ridge for the second straight year when senior 170-pounder Oscar Cuevas pinned Brody Wainwright in the third period. It put the Blue Devils up 37-18 with three matches left.
“Coach told us that if we got pinned, we’d lose the dual,” Cuevas said. “That was just going through my mind the whole time. I knew I needed to get the pin.”
I-Ridge senior Tristan Mordecai had a major decision in the next match, but Sunnyside seniors Gabe Gonazales and Ernesto Fuentes closed the dual with back-to-back pins.
“This was my last time wrestling in Tucson, so it was really important for me to leave it all on the mat, and I feel like I did that for the most part,” Gonzales said.
Senior heavyweight Jorge Orduno set the tone quickly for the Blue Devils, pinning his opponent with 23.1 seconds left in the second period. But undefeated 106-pound sophomore Danny Vega got the Nighthawks right back in the dual with a pin of his own.
I-Ridge held a slight advantage twice early in the night, after wins by Patrick Klass and Kyle Taylor.
Sunnyside went up for good after junior 132-pounder Aldo Montano pinned his opponent in the first period in the first of four straight wins for the Blue Devils, including a pin by senior Ulisses Lopez (145) in just 56 seconds.
“I feel like we kind of came out intimidated by them,” said I-Ridge’s Vega (37-0). “We could have wrestled a lot better than we did. We should be strong by state.”
I-Ridge coach Tim Berrier also said he sensed some intimidation, but he’s hoping that will change by the Division-I state finals next month when Sunnyside and Ironwood Ridge will likely have to battle with Mesa Mountain View to take home the championship.
“We’ve got a couple weeks to get our act together,” Berrier said. “We’ve got to use it as motivation that someone is out there working harder.”