Though it'll never be official, St. Mary's girls basketball team's national championship quest was completed in typical Knights' fashion: A runaway.
It's what St. Mary's has done in practically every game this en route to an undefeated season, and the Knights turned it up a notch during the state tournament.
Forget the No. 3-seeding labeled upon St. Mary's, the 65-40 victory over upstart Hamilton on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena was the Knights' second consecutive Division I state championship, and, depending on the national publication in question, a possible national championship upcoming.
The latter, however, was a mixed bag in the minds of the Knights, who haven't lost a game since January 2011 to Pinnacle 41 games ago.
"We always say peace of mind is knowing you've done your best regardless of whatever else happens, and these girls have done that," Knights coach Curtis Ekmark said. "I'm happy for the girls because they've worked so hard for this, and for the school, regardless of anybody's rankings wherever."
Having never played in a semifinal, let alone a championship game in school history, Hamilton was worried about its emotions at the onset, and, unfortunately for coach Jeff Kain's team, it was a founded fear.
The Knights steamrolled from the start, forcing turnovers and awkward shots by Hamilton and hitting outside shots and transition baskets on the other end.
Both teams struggled shooting, but the Knights won in bulk by taking 26 more attempts than the Huskies. Led by Shilpa Tummala and Courtney Ekmark (45 combined points), the Knights led 20-4 after one quarter and 38-19 by halftime.
Courtney Walton and Chantel Osahor each had 10 rebounds for the Knights, which had 16 steals as a team out of its relentless full-court pressure.
The Huskies fared better in the second half, but the deficit hovered between 20 and 30 points all day. It was St. Mary's third title since 2006.
"The kids answered the bell every day," Ekmark said. "They've all bought into the concept of the team being better than any individual or themselves. Once a team clears that hurdle, assuming there's some talent, it's difficult to beat."
The Huskies did the same in reaching this point for the first time in its existence. A 16-point comeback victory against Red Mountain in the quarterfinals gave Kain's team belief this point could be reached, and a hold-on-for-dear-life victory against No. 1 Mountain View in the semifinals legitimized the Huskies' place in the championship game.
Hamilton only shot 31 percent and committed most of its 24 turnovers in the first half when the game got out of hand. Kyndall Adams and Lauren Evans each scored 16 points for the Huskies, but the rest of the Huskies combined to go 3-for-17 from the field.
Still, the run to the title game wasn't lost on the part of the school or team, which loses Evans, Cassidee Ranger and Faren Cunningham to graduation, but has a core group of Adams, Ashlee Moore, and Aliyah Dickson returning.
"We have a lot to be proud of," Kain said. "...I told the underclassmen we want to be back here, and thank the seniors for getting us here. "...We've never done this before and there's a lot to build from."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.