After not handling pressure well in its last game, Gilbert High took what it practiced the last two days and put it to use Friday in netting a win over visiting Phoenix St. Mary’s.
The fifth-ranked Tigers outscored the Knights 17-5 in the third period to break open a tight game and post a 66-54 victory in a 5A Division I boys basketball game.
“Tuesday (vs. Sierra Vista Buena) we had a 10-point lead and lost it — and the game — because we kind of puckered to their pressure,” first-year Gilbert coach Jay Caserio said. “St. Mary’s pressures you, too. We did a much better job handling that tonight.”
Gilbert (6-2) got 19 points each from 6-foot-2 swingman Kevin Soliz and 6-6 post Elliot Fletcher and controlled St. Mary’s big man Byron Fulton long enough that what he produced in the final period didn’t matter. Fulton tallied a team-high 16 points. Eight came in the final period when Gilbert had pulled away and stretched a 31-30 halftime lead to 52-35 with seven minutes left.
“Kevin’s only 6-2, but he’s had to guard the other team’s big guy every game and has done a great job,” Caserio said. “He never lets the ball go directly to their big guy. We defended the big guy well.”
Gilbert limited St. Mary’s (2-2) to one field goal in the third period (1-for-11) and shot 50 percent from the floor at the other end. Soliz scored six points and reserve Elliot Clark netted five of his eight points to rebuild the Tigers a double-digit lead they enjoyed much of the first period and a good portion of the second.
Fletcher was solid all night, going 9-for-11 from the field with a soft touch inside. Junior guard Eric Donzella, who added 10 points for Gilbert, was instrumental in fending off St. Mary’s pressure.
Guard Matt Skelly scored 13 points for St. Mary’s. He hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second period that rallied the Knights from 11 down to a tie in the final minute of the first half.