St. Mary's cruises over Hamilton and back into state title game

St. Mary's cruises over Hamilton and back into state title game

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St. Mary's cruises over Hamilton and back into state title game

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TEMPE — Phoenix St. Mary’s senior Danielle Williams insists this is fun.

It doesn’t matter that winning basketball games, including Division I state championships, has become as routine as taking out the trash. It doesn’t matter that St. Mary’s players never, ever seem to smile on the court.

According to Williams, St. Mary’s has more fun than any other team in the state.

“Winning is fun,” she said with a stone-cold serious delivery. “Preparing to win isn’t necessarily as fun, but we know it’s going to pay off.”

If winning is fun, then maybe Williams is right. With a 74-55 demolition of Chandler Hamilton in the Division I state semifinals Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena, St. Mary’s (28-1) has now won 59 consecutive games against Arizona teams. That’s a lot of fun.

The last team that beat the two-time defending champs was Phoenix Pinnacle in 2011. Pinnacle and St. Mary’s will meet in the state championship Saturday at 2 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena.

“Our kids are a smart, savvy group,” St. Mary’s coach Curtis Ekmark said. “They understand they have another game Saturday. The one thing they know how to do is they know how to win games.”

And how to make opponents play the way St. Mary’s wants them to. Hamilton fell victim to such a mistake midway through the first quarter, costing coach Jeff Kain’s team any chance at a monumental upset.

If there’s a formula for beating St. Mary’s, Hamilton (27-6) followed it for the opening minutes of the third quarter. Hamilton patiently broke the St. Mary’s press with smart passes, and then patiently ran through its offense for a good shot.

Hamilton led 10-7 early on. It didn’t last long.

That’s when the St. Mary’s blitzkrieg began, beginning with a Chantel Osahor 3-pointer that sparked a 22-0 run to close the quarter and begin the second. Hamilton tried to blitz right back, but either turned the ball over or took an early shot with no one under the basket to rebound the miss.

“They got us going quick,” Kain said. “We did that early, kind of slowed it down and were able to run our offense and be a little more patient. That’s just what St. Mary’s does, gets you going quick.”

Beginning the second quarter down 27-10, Kain knew his team had to be patient to get back into the game. Mesa Mountain View had done the same thing to Hamilton in last year’s semifinals.

Instead, Hamilton kept running. St. Mary’s doesn’t get tired.

“I think we had a good week of boot camp, a good week of mini boot camp, and that really prepared us,” Williams said. “We’re all ready, we’re mentally strong about it.”

Courtney Ekmark led all scorers with 28 points on 10 of 26 shooting , but went just 2 of 15 from behind the arc. Brandee Walton added 13 points, and Osahor had 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.

St. Mary’s outrebounded Hamilton 40-26, and 13-3 on the offensive boards, netting 20 second-chance points and scoring 24 points off turnovers.

“It was really our defense,” Williams said. “We were getting defensive rebounds, getting after it. That’s really what the catalyst was. Our defense is always what brings us home.”

Hamilton was led by Shelby Hartman and Kyndall Adams with 14 points each. Ashlee Moore added 13 points and Aaliyah Dickson had 10.

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