Once again, Hamilton's girls basketball team played itself even with powerhouse St. Mary's.
Once again, five minutes of uneven play proved lethal.
In a frustrating redux from the first meeting between these schools earlier in the season, No. 5 Hamilton started hot, only to be buried beneath the Knights' firepower and frenetic pace in No. 1 St. Mary's 74-55 win over the fifth-seeded Huskies on Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena in the Division I state tournament semifinals.
Make that 59 consecutive wins against Arizona schools for the two-time defending champion Knights, who beat Hamilton in last year's championship game.
Pinnacle, the last Arizona team to beat St. Mary's back in January 2011, will be the Knights' opponent for a third time this season when they meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Jobing.com Arena for the Div. I championship.
Those five minutes in question came in the latter half of the first quarter. Hamilton's Kyndall Adams converted a four-point play to give Hamilton a 10-7 lead. The Huskies made shots and kept St. Mary's off the offensive glass which helped for a half-court game contrary to what St. Mary's prefers.
What followed, however, was a 20-0 St. Mary's run which concluded the first quarter and extended into the early portion of the second quarter.
"We got to play our style and that was big," St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark said.
Led by Chantel Osahor, Courtney Ekmark and Brandee Walton, the size, speed and athleticism of the Knights (28-1) took control. Outside shooting stretched Hamilton's defense, the Knights' pressure led to turnovers and Osahor's 3-pointers and deft passing led to layups and second-chance points.
This game was similar, if not a bit more extensive, than the Jan. 7 between the schools in which St. Mary's had a long run early in a game which was otherwise evenly played the rest of the way. By then, however, it was too late for Hamilton.
"If they play the way they did tonight they're tough to beat," Hamilton coach Jeff Kain said.
The second-half was played relatively even offensively and defensively between the schools - which wound up in Hamilton being the Arizona team to play St. Mary's the closest this season.
Osahor nearly had a triple-double and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. Ekmark struggled from outside, but had a big first and fourth quarters on predominantly cuts to the basket. The UConn-commit led all scorers with 28 points. Walton added 13 points for the Knights.
It was the end of the basketball road at Hamilton for Kyndall Adams', Casey Rowden, Christina Reynard and Aliyah Dickson; a core group who never fell short of a state tournament quarterfinal appearance in four years as part of Hamilton's girls program becoming a perennial winner.
Led by Adams' 14 points and seven rebounds, the seniors combined for 41 of the Huskies' 55 points. Junior Ashlee Moore added 11 points for the Huskies.
"We had opportunities and that's all you can want," Kain said.
St. Mary's 74, Hamilton 55
Hamilton 10 17 18 10 -- 55
St. Mary's 27 17 18 10 -- 74
Hamilton: Hogberg 2, Moore 13, Adams 14, Dickson 10, Hartman 14, Filiere 2
St. Mary's: Osahor 15, Da. Williams 6, Do. Williams 4, Ekmark 28, Johnson 8, Walton 13
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.