Perhaps it's because the senior year for a core group of Pinnacle girls basketball players. Perhaps it's because that same core group has been in championship games three times and had its collective heartbroken each time.
Perhaps, it was just that kind of day.
Pinnacle's shots came out swishing early and late in a 61-48 victory over No. 2 Highland in the Division I state tournament semifinals on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Pinnacle (33-2) heads to the Div. I state championship game on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena. It's the sixth time in seven years the Pioneers have played for a state title dating back to being a 5A Division II school, and third attempt in the past four years.
"Maybe the fifth time is a charm?" joked Pinnacle coach Troy Wiese before it was noted this will be six in seven years.
"One time it's going to change, hopefully it's Saturday."
The first quarter set the stage - a 17-4 Pioneers' advantage - and the fourth quarter finished off Highland's valiant comeback effort.
Among those seniors, Sydney Wiese (Oregon State) began the game with a 3-pointer, and Britta Nordstrom scored nine points in the quarter. The two scored all of third-seeded Pinnacle's points in the quarter, while Highland didn't score a field goal and made only four of eight free throws.
"We kinda punched them right in the face, honestly, to start with," Nordstrom said. "They're a really good team, but we were in rhythm and came out like we needed to early."
The Hawks, however, forced Pinnacle into foul trouble in the second quarter and made this a game again by hitting 11 of 12 free throws in the quarter to cut Pinnacle's lead to 31-23 at halftime.
"If we hit our first shot, look out. If we miss our first shot, it's 'Uh oh,'" Highland coach Miner Webster said. "We couldn't make a basket."
Given their struggles, the Hawks felt OK about only trailing eight points at intermission, and felt they could contain Pinnacle's offense and outside shooting.
It grew a bit closer in the third quarter when Rebecca Rudd (team-high 18 points) hit a couple 3-pointers in the third quarter while teammates continued to hit free throws.
But Highland (32-3) ultimately couldn't counter Pinnacle (9 of 19 from behind the arc), and the game swung back Pinnacle's way for good with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks' Olivia Lucero had what was a layup which would have cut the deficit to 49-43, but the Hawks were called for an offensive foul (moving screen) and the basket was wiped away.
Kenna McDavis hit a 3-pointer for Pinnacle on its possession, and a steal led to a Wiese layup on the next possession to make it 52-43.
"Just like that it was a big swing," Webster said.
In addition to Liz Rudd, Lucero finished with 11 points, Megan Brown had seven and 10 rebounds and Liz Rudd had six for Highland. But the Hawks shot 29 percent for the game (5 of 18 from outside) to negate the strong free throw and rebounding numbers.
After she struggled in the quarterfinals, Wiese rebounded with 21 points and five assists to compliment Nordstrom's 21 and seven rebounds. McDavis finished with six points and Troy Wiese praised his reserve's collective performance after a couple starters were plagued by early foul trouble.
Saturday will be the third attempt at a championship for Wiese, Nordstrom, McDavis, Madie Rinehart and co. It used to be Tolleson which left Pinnacle in misery in those championship-game showdowns, so perhaps either facing St. Mary's or Hamilton will provide a necessary change of scenery to end this group's tenure.
"Let's hope so," Nordstrom said. "I really do hope so."
Pinnacle 61, Highland 49
Pinnacle 17 14 16 14 -- 61
Highland 4 19 14 12 -- 49
Pinnacle: Nordstrom 21, McDavis 11, Rinehart 3, Wiese 21, Hotchkins 2, Terrano 3
Highland: Brown 7, Lucero 11, R. Rudd 18, L. Rudd 6, Bryant 1, Perry 5, Myers 1
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.