Who can keep St. Mary’s from girls’ hoops crown? No one

Aside from death and taxes, the only other thing we can count on is that St. Mary’s High School will win a state girls’ basketball championship this year.

The Knights have been slowly validating their status as the best team in the state, and probably the country, by working their way through the Division I state playoffs.  Their second straight scoring effort of 70 or more points resulted in a berth in Thursday’s semifinals.

Desert Vista High School, the No. 6 seed, was the latest speed bump in their progression to the title, as the Thunder were dismissed from the tournament with a 77-39 thumping – on a night when the Knights weren’t really shooting all that well.

St. Mary’s, a central Phoenix school, ran up a 42-20 lead at the half and then cruised home from there, as Shilpa Tummala poured in 25 points and Courtney Ekmark added another 21.

The Knights, who inexplicably are seeded No. 3, have outscored the play-off opposition 151-76 so far.

The next team up on the list of road kill will be Mesa’s Dobson High School, seeded No. 7, which rolled to an impressive 53-36 win over Highland High from Gilbert in last night’s quarterfinals.

Highland was the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but the Hawks couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers and cold shooting.  Dobson jumped out to an early double-digit lead and was up 33-17 by the half, fueled by 18 points from Katherine Hamilton.  The junior finished the night with 22 points.

But Dobson is a young team that isn’t going to be able to stand up to the constant defensive pressure St. Mary’s will apply.  And it will take more than Hamilton’s shooting skills to run up enough points to stay with the Knights’ offensive barrage.

Which should lead to a St. Mary’s meeting with either Hamilton High School or Mountain View (Mesa) High in the finals on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.

Those two schools will play each other Thursday in the semis.  The winner essentially gets second place this year – regardless of the we-know-we-can-beat-St. Mary’s attitude of both coaches.  It will take more than a good game face.

Chandler’s Hamilton High is trying to keep alive its Cinderalla story.  The Huskies were seeded No. 12 and have had to beat three higher-seeeded teams to get this far, including a two-point overtime win against No. 5 Red Mountain High School from Mesa.

Tolleson, which they beat 60-45 last night, was the No. 4 seed.

Aliyah Dickson, the Hamilton junior who has enough size and court savvy at 6’0″ to play either guard or forward, has been a presence throughout the playoffs.  She contributed 24 points against Tolleson, 15 of which came at the free throw line.

The game with Mountain View, which was given the No. 1 seed, has a lot of significance for Hamilton.  It will be the school’s first appearance ever in a girls’ basketball state semifinal game.  And it will also give the Huskies a chance to avenge a loss last year to Mountain View in the first round of the state tournament.

The Toros weren’t that impressive in last night’s 58-49 victory over Chandler High School, getting out to a sloppy start that included 15 first-half turnovers.  They led by just six at the half and by 10 to start the fourth quarter.

But the 27 points and nine rebounds from Arnecia Hawkins – despite playing much of the second half with four fouls – was enough to carry the Toros through.  Little sister, Armani, added 16 points as the talented siblings accounted for more than two-thirds of the team’s output.

So, if Hamilton pulls off yet another upset by beating the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, they get a really neat prize… a chance to be humbled by the No. 1 team in the country.