GILBERT — The battered and bruised No. 9 Sunnyside Blue Devils dropped Tuesday night’s girls basketball game to the No. 8 Gilbert Tigers 41-20 in the first round of the playoffs.
After losing one of their top scorers to an injury in Friday’s game, Andrea De La Fuente, they suffered another blow early in the third when the team’s other leader Vitoria Perez went down with an ankle injury.
The Blue Devils did their best without the two leading components of the team, but unfortunately weren’t able to get the job done.
“We just didn’t have it offensively, and sometimes you don’t,” Sunnyside coach Justin Delgado said.
The game got off to a defensive start, with each team fighting for the ball and itching to establish some sort of dominance. Closing out the first, Gilbert was only leading 10-6, but as Sunnyside was continuing to struggle with seeing shots fall, Gilbert was starting to see things click.
Well it’s not the way we wanted our season to end but we are very proud of our Lady Blue Devils, @CoachDelgado012 & his staff! Down one starting senior & lost another right after half. They never quit. Good luck to Gilbert the rest of the way! #WeAreSunnyside #WeWillBeBack
— Sunnyside HS Girls Basketball (@LadyDevil_Hoops) March 10, 2021
Gilbert took the bit of momentum it was able to build and carried it into the second, where the Tigers were able to hold Sunnyside scoreless for the first four and a half minutes of the quarter and jump out to a 14-8 lead with 3:30 remaining in the half.
The Blue Devils made their strongest run of the entire game in the remaining 3:30 time window before the half, where they rallied to cut away at Gilbert’s lead and make it 17-14.
“I just really liked the way our girls battled on defense to keep it close at half. … It all starts with our point guard Annaliese Felix,” Delgado said.
Coming out of the half, Perez went down under the basket when she rolled her ankle coming down from a rebound just 27 seconds into the third quarter. Being assisted off the court and back into the trainer’s area, it marked another unfortunate blow to the team at a critical time.
From there, Gilbert was able to go on a run and jump out to a 27-17 lead at the end of the third quarter.
For a team with no seniors and a new coach, a postseason victory was in sight, separated only by eight minutes of playing time. Hungry and determined, the Tigers closed out the game with 14 points in the fourth quarter to defeat the Blue Devils 41-20 and advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Meanwhile for the Blue Devils, it was an unfortunate way to end the already tough season, but a game they’ll definitely learn from.
“I think it was a good experience and I think it’s going to help us in the long run of things. Losing Andrea De La Fuenta, one of our captains, last week to Flowing Wells and losing Vitoria Perez, who didn’t score any points, both of those girls score 30 together so that definitely hurt us,” Delgado said.
From practicing in the park to prepare for the season to dealing with the delayed start in Tucson compared to the Valley, it’s a season that the Blue Devils (11-6) certainly feel they’ll come out stronger from as they return to the hardwood next year.
“We couldn’t get inside the gym because of everything going on so we ended up practicing outside, and it was a pain. Practicing with no grip, everybody’s sliding on the court trying not to injure themselves. But after we got into the gym, it started going good, but I feel like that helped us too because being outside we had to be more aware of our surroundings,” Felix said.
Felix was the top scorer for the Blue Devils, putting up seven points in the game.
“We’ll be back next year, and we’ll be going forward. Just expect that,” Felix said.
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AllSportsTucson.com Phoenix-area reporter Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona.