St. Mary's defeats CSCS in state title rematch

St. Mary's senior Mackenzie Pepper (14) breaks down as the Pirates team celebrates after defeating Colorado Springs Christian School on the 3A Girls Championship game Saturday, March 9, 2019, at Denver University in Denver. St. Mary's won 56-34 to win back-to-back state titles. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

DENVER - Can the St. Mary’s girls' basketball team soar to a four-peat in 3A basketball championships?

Pirate assistant coach Kyle Burkett smiled at the question.

“The Golden State Warriors couldn’t do it,” he said of four straight titles. “Maybe we can.”

A third straight title next season is all but a given. If you don’t believe me, listen to Mark Engesser, the Colorado Springs Christian coach who fell to St. Mary’s in the last two 3A title games. Engesser and his cold-shooting Lions lost to St. Mary’s 56-34 in Saturday’s final at the University of Denver.

Does any other team have a chance to reign in 2019-2020? Remember, the Pirates return five of their top six players.

“No, no, no, no,” Engesser said, repeating his word just in case you — or anyone else — harbors doubts.

Engesser predicted St. Mary’s and Pagosa Springs will meet in next season’s 3A final and “St. Mary’s will win handily.” That will be title No. 3, and talk of the four-peat can begin in earnest.

This sweet season began in strife for coach Mike Burkett, who was under investigation after an allegation of misconduct. St. Mary’s principal Dave Hyland told The Gazette’s Lindsey Smith that police and St. Mary’s High School were involved in the investigation and all allegations proved to be false.

Burkett was cleared Dec. 20 to return to the team he has coached 20 seasons.

“Yeah, it didn’t start well but ... I knew — I knew — that everything would be fine and I would just have to go through the process,” Burkett said.

“Dec. 20, it was pretty good day. When you’ve been accused of something that’s not even close to the truth.”

He paused.

“It’s just a great day, for everyone. For family. For friends. For the program.”

Burkett laughed when asked about yet another title.

Who can stop the Pirates?

“Us,” he said, laughing before correcting himself.

“No, they’ll be teams out there. We’ll just have to take on all challengers. It’ll be a challenge again this year and we’ll have to work as hard as we did this year.”

Let’s be clear: The Pirates worked with extreme diligence to rule 3A the past two seasons, but the hardest work usually was done in practice. Games were almost always a breeze. In the playoffs leading to the title game the past two seasons, the Pirates outscored opponents by 32 points per game. The Pirates have won 52 of their last 54 games.

The only losses were to Megan Engesser, Rachel Ingram and the Lions. And Engesser and Ingram will soon graduate and Mark Engesser told me he has coached his last game. He’ll be deployed to the Middle East, most likely Jordan, in January.

Saturday’s game looked, on paper, as if it would deliver yet another St. Mary’s-CSCS high-drama battle. The Lions defeated the Pirates by 17 earlier this season, and St. Mary’s struggled to a six-point win in February.

CSCS had roared all season from the 3-point line, but its touch went cold in Saturday’s finale. It missed 17 of 18 3-pointers.

St. Mary’s guard Seneca Hackley led the Pirates with 18 points. She is, of course, returning next season for more fun.

Did she expect another fiery St. Mary’s-CSCS battle Saturday?

“I did, honestly,” she said.

Next season, I don’t see any genuine battles. A three-peat is not certain. It’s only really, really close to certain.

“Hopefully,” Hackley said, “we can get another one.”

Meanwhile, all hope is gone for every other 3A team. Count on it. St. Mary’s will repeat.

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