Sunnyside closer to third straight 5A state title appearance

Sunnyside coach Casey O’Brien knows what it is like to be in the 5A state semifinals, but this year’s experience is different.

His senior-laden teams the last two years that made the state title match were expected to get that far with a combined record of 48-2-2. His 2019 team took home the state title with a record of 24-0-2.

This year’s team, with 10 underclassmen and two senior newcomers who are transfers from Douglas, had more losses (three) than the previous two years combined.

Despite the turnover of talent, Sunnyside (13-3) is a match away from reaching another championship appearance after a thrilling 4-2 quarterfinal win on penalty kicks at Glendale Independence on Saturday.

“We were a lot older the last couple of years, so we knew what we had a little bit more going into it,” O’Brien said. “This team, we have freshmen, a lot of sophomores and juniors making up the majority of our starting lineup, and then a couple of transfers.

“I’ve gotta say I’m pretty proud of this team, just because the expectations from the outside probably were pretty low this year for us. It looks like we’re doing a lot better than a lot of people thought we might have done.”

Since losing three of five matches in the regular season against state playoff teams Nogales, Salpointe and Rincon/University, Sunnyside has strung together seven straight victories including the last two on the road in the 5A state playoffs.

As the No. 10 seed, Sunnyside defeated No. 7 Tempe McClintock 2-0 on Wednesday and hung tough in inclement weather at Independence, the No. 2 seed.

The play of the game was sophomore goalie Jorge “Georgie” Arvayo stopping a penalty kick late in regulation with the match tied at 1. The ricochet off his save went to an Independence and his close shot hit off the legs of a teammate.

Arvayo then blocked one of the penalty kicks that opened the door for Sunnyside’s win.

Miguel Sosa and Joaquin Escalante — the transfers from Douglas — made the two first penalty kicks for Sunnyside. Ivan Felix, a sophomore, and Johnny Verdugo, a junior, made the other two.

Verdugo was rushed on the field by his teammates after making the last penalty kick.

“With the penalty kicks, they just stayed composed,” O’Brien said. “They did a great job of finishing it off.”

Sunnyside advances to play No. 3 Glendale Ironwood (12-1) in the semifinals at Phoenix Desert Vista on Tuesday at 4 p.m. The winner advances to play in the state championship Saturday at Desert Vista at 1 p.m.

The Blue Devils appear to be maturing at the right time.

“It looks like they’re kind of taking the moment on and I would say that’s showing pretty good maturity, especially for our younger guys,” O’Brien said. “They have stayed very composed in the in the playoffs so far and it’s exciting going forward because we can only get better.”

“We can only get better. We’ve been getting better all year fortunately.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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