There's no question St. Mary's is the team to beat in Arizona high school girls basketball.
Are the Knights staking the same claim nationally?
St. Mary's went 4-0 in the most prestigious bracket of the country's top girls basketball tournament this week, defeating Upper Marlboro (Md.) Riverdale Baptist 79-69 to win the Joe Smith championship in the Nike Tournament of Champions on Thursday at Hamilton.
Riverdale Baptist is ranked as the top team in the country by Maxpreps.com, but it was St. Mary's which dominated from start to finish.
The Knights grabbed a 6-5 lead on a three-pointer by Shilpa Tummala with 4:21 left in the first quarter and never relinquished it. St. Mary's was ranked No. 2 in the country by Maxpreps heading into the tournament and will likely take over the top spot with the stroung showing.
The lead ballooned to as much as 19 points in the fourth quarter and Riverdale Baptist would get it no closer than nine.
"That's like playing a college team with their size and athleticism," St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark said. "I was really impressed with our kids. They were willing to do whatever it took tonight."
The Knights (10-0) did it by getting only two points from Louisville-bound Cortnee Walton, who battled foul trouble throughout the contest. Courtney Ekmark led the way with 26 points and Tummala added 24. Chantel Osahor controlled the game by scoring points, hauling down rebounds and showing a surprisingly deft passing tough for a post player.
"I told Chantel today that in the chess game, she's my queen, because she is so versatile," Ekmark said. "She has size, she can pass, she can shoot, she can post. We can really move her around and take advantage of different matchups."
Riverdale Baptist tried to get back into the game by fouling early and often in the fourth quarter. St. Mary's hit 22-of-37 free throws in the final stanza.
"We missed some, but we made enough to win the game," Osahor said.
There was a large crowd and the game was high intensity, which the Knights seemed to enjoy. This is the same group of players that had enough talent to lead St. Mary's to a finals appearance and a state championship as underclassmen the past two years, and now the team's experience is catching up with its talent.
"We look forward to (big games) because we've been in so many," Osahor said. "It's nothing new to us."
The game was delayed in the third quarter when Riverdale Baptist coach Diane Richardson was knocked unconscious in a collision with one of her players.
Paramedics were called to the scene and gave Richardson several tests, but she stayed on the sidelines to coach the remainder of the contest.
"I couldn't get out of the way in time," she said. "I'm too old, man. I thought I was out of the way."