Prep hoops…Division 1 title games go according to script

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.  That could have been the theme for the day in the top two divisions of yesterday’s high school state basketball championships.

In Division II… it was the Woulda, Coulda factor.  A win by the Peoria High School girls would have given the school a sweep of the state titles because the Peoria boys’ team won their championship game, beating Tucson’s Amphitheater High, 50-48 on a dramatic lay-up by Sam Engler with just three ticks left on the game clock.

But the Peoria girls, seeded No. 1 going into the playoffs, let No. 3 Seton Catholic pull away in the third quarter of their title game and the Sentinels went on to claim their third straight state championship with a 52-44 victory.

Despite 24 points from Peoria’s senior center, Cece Pearl, the Sentinels were able to stretch their two-point halftime lead to 10 points as the fourth quarter started.  Peoria couldn’t get any closer than a seven-point spread the rest of the way.

Pearl’s 24 points led all scorers, while Seton spread its scoring around, with Heather Heild topping the Sentinel stats with 16 points, and Ann Marie Holter and Julia Barcello each adding 13.

But the Peoria boys picked up where the girls left off, rebounding from an early 14-point deficit in the day’s next game to battle to a tie with 16 seconds left in regulation.  That set up the final shot by Engler, who came off the bench to make the biggest shot of his basketball life.

In Division I… the Shoulda part of the equation took over.  Both favorites should have won their respective titles – and did.  In convincing fashion.

On the boys’ side, the No. 1 seed, Corona del Sol High School from Tempe, showed why it was given the top seed, finishing off a relatively easy run (with the exception of a three-point squeaker in the semis to No. 5 Desert Vista High) through the tournament by beating No. 6 Cesar Chavez High School (Laveen) for the title.

The Chavez teams use the term ‘Champions’ as their mascot.  And for the first three games, they played like champions, beating No. 3 Red Mountain High School by 13 points in the quarterfinals and then gutting out an overtime win against No. 2 Pinnacle High in the semis.

But Corona took an early first-quarter lead, built it to a 34-20 advantage at the half, and never looked back in rolling to a 66-53 win.  The Aztecs were fueled by Casey Benson‘s 22 points and the board work of Avery Moss and Andrus Peat to capture its first state title in nearly 20 years.  Moss had 21 rebounds, in addition to his 18 points, and Peat added 10 more boards.

The Aztecs lost just one game all season (to Mesquite High School) and had put together a run of 30 straight wins.

And that’s almost a mirror image of what has been going on this season on the girls’ side in Division I, where St. Mary’s High School has dominated from the first game.

After the first few games this year, it was pretty apparent where the Phoenix Catholic school was headed.  The AIA could have just mailed them the championship trophy at that point.

Instead, the Knights played out the season, going undefeated and winning the Nike Tournament of Champions during the holidays.  That TofC win validated their status as the No. 1 team in the state – but also gave them a good argument for being the No. 1 team in the country because the field always includes the nation’s best teams.

Yesterday, St. Mary’s put an exclamation mark on the season with a dominant performance against Hamilton High School from Chandler, applying a smothering defense that put the Huskies in a 20-4 hole by the end of the first quarter.

Hamilton never recovered, were down by 19 at the half, and eventually folded into a 65-40 title-game loss.  It was the end of a ‘Cinderella’ run for the Huskies, the No. 12 seed that had to beat No. 5 Red Mountain High, No. 4 Tolleson High, and finally No. 1 Mountain View High to get a shot at the title.

Courtney Ekmark poured in 28 points for the Knights and Shilpa Tummala added 17 more, while the young squad also controlled the boards.  Courtney Walton and Chantel Osahor each had 10 rebounds.

But it was that stifling St. Mary’s full-court pressure that kept Hamilton at arm’s length.  It forced 24 turnovers and held the Huskies to 31 percent shooting from the field.

It’s the third state title for St. Mary’s in six years.  But this one is especially important because it supports the school’s argument for a No. 1 national ranking – and illustrates how ridiculous their No. 3 seeding was.