After tinkering around awhile, St. Mary's put its foot down and held up another trophy.
The Knights secured their place among girls basketball dynasties - arguably the greatest - in Arizona high school basketball history - by doing what they've done better than every other team in the state for the past four years: Dogged defense.
No. 3 Pinnacle knew what it was up a against better than most, but the Pioneers' second half went south and a small halftime lead evaporated quickly as No. 1 St. Mary's shut down Pinnacle in the Knights' 49-37 victory on Saturdayy at Jobing.com Arena.
It's the Knights third consecutive Division I state championship and an Arizona opponent winning streak of 60 consecutive games dating back to January 2011, when Pinnacle was the last team to beat the Knights.
"I'll leave that for others to decide, but to win 60 games, a national championship and three state championships, maybe there's a team out there that's done similar things but I don't know about it," St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark said of his program's place in the annals.
Pinnacle appeared poised to pull off the monumental upset - even Pinnacle coach Troy Wiese played the "David vs. Goliath" cliche before the game - and, having seen them three times this season, the Pioneers played a near-perfect formula for beating St. Mary's.
Pinnacle effectively broke the Knights' pressure and full-court traps, were patient offensively, outrebounded the Knights 22-13 in taking a 26-20 lead. It was the largest halftime deficit against an Arizona school in a couple years.
"We had some nerves and needed to pick ourselves up," junior guard Courtney Ekmark said. "We needed to dictate how the second half was going to be played."
The Knights did so. Pinnacle committed 17 turnovers in the second half (25 overall) and scored four points in the third quarter. Pinnacle took quicker shots on the few opportunities they gave themselves to even get a shot, and it was 37-30 St. Mary's after three quarters.
But the Pioneers made one more run, this time fueled by a 3-pointer from Kenna McDavis and a transition layup by Britta Nordstrom pulled the Pioneers to within 37-35.
But two consecutive steals by St. Mary's became layups by Ekmark and Dominique Williams, and it was back to 41-35 in a span of 30 seconds.
"That was the turning point," Pinnacle coach Troy Wiese said.
The Pioneers were held to 11 points in the second half, despite a 38-26 rebounding advantage and 2-for-17 outside shooting by St. Mary's.
Pinnacle guard Sydney Wiese (Oregon State commit) was held to 3 of 14 shooting for seven points and nine turnovers in the final game of her brilliant career. She had five assists and four rebounds, and, despite the turnovers, was often the Pioneer most successful in breaking the Knights' pressure.
Nordstrom led Pinnacle with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and McDavis added 11.
Pinnacle appeared in its third championship game in the past four years, all of which went against the Pioneers. Troy Wiese harkened some lines from former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy and NBA coach Doug Collins in seeking perspective on the Pioneers' close-but-no-cigar title runs of their own in recent years as a 5A Division II and Division I school.
"Tens of thousands of schools can't get here," he said. "(My players) are winners in my book."
The junior Ekmark (a Connecticut commit) led the Knights with 14 points. She said she broke her nose in the first quarter of the Knights' first-round state tournament game against Desert Vista but wanted to keep playing and didn't like the idea of wearing a mask. Curtis Ekmark also noted Dominique Williams spent Friday night in the hospital from a spider bite.
Chantel Osahor had nine points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the Knights. Osahor's knee problems were among the Knights' medical maladies of late. It was part of the impetus behind St. Mary's start to Saturday as they tried to conserve energy in the earlygoing.
The second wind turned led to a third title.
"We just had to get back to what we do," Curtis Ekmark said. "Down six at half, with the season staring them in the face, we came out and played lock-down defense."
St. Mary's 49, Pinnacle 37
Pinn 9 17 4 7 -- 37
St.M 13 7 17 12 -- 49
Pinnacle: Nordstrom 12, McDavis 11, Wiese 7, Hotchkins 5, Bender 2
St. Mary's: Osahor 9, Da. Williams 7, Do. Williams 8, Ekmark 14, Johnson 4, Walton 7
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.