DENVER - St. Mary’s girls’ basketball coach Mike Burkett is not a fan of the 8:45 a.m. quarterfinal slot. Even more so after Thursday morning.
For the second year in a row the No. 1 Pirates received the dreaded early morning game, and despite leaving Colorado Springs at 6 a.m., the team only arrived at the University of Denver 20 minutes before tip-off of their 3A quarterfinal game against No. 9 Alamosa.
But thankfully for the Pirates their young, but seasoned crew, knows what to expect at DU and in the quarterfinals. The team rebounded after a tough first quarter to claim a 53-38 victory over the Mean Moose.
“We were just a little bit out of synch,” St. Mary’s coach Mike Burkett said. “But give (Alamosa) credit, those kids were playing hard, they were here to win the game. But we were rushed in here and we pulled them in and were barely able to give them a pregame talk. We’re lucky we have a veteran team so we can overcome some of those things.”
A crash on Interstate 25 North backed traffic up from DU to south of Lone Tree, turning the Pirates’ road trip to a two-hour excursion.
“We promised them tomorrow we will have them here on time,” Burkett said. St. Mary’s will play No. 5 Eaton on Friday in the state semifinals. Eaton defeated No. 4 Delta 53-45 on Thursday.
But looking at the history of the Class 3A girls’ tournament, Burkett and the Pirates may benefit from surviving a tough early quarterfinal game as the last four 3A state champions have played in the 8:45 a.m. slot — including the Pirates a year ago.
Alamosa led 12-7 after the first quarter, but St. Mary’s outscored the Mean Moose 10-3 in the second to head into the locker room with a three-point lead.
St. Mary’s leading scorer Josephine Howery was shut out in the first half, but scored three straight field goals to start the third quarter. Her third score set off a 12-0 run for St. Mary’s to build a solid lead.
With Howery’s scoring trouble the weight fell on other junior leaders Seneca Hackley, Catherine Cummings and Brooklyn Valdez.
“I try and do whatever my team needs at that point so I just started driving and trying to score to try to get that energy up,” Hackley said. “It felt really good to get that run going. We were more relaxed and we just knew what we had to do and we knew we had to be more aggressive.”
Alamosa went on a five-point run toward the end of the third, but Pirate freshman Ellie Hartman drove the length of the court and scored in the final five seconds to give St. Mary’s momentum heading into the final quarter.
“She just gets up and goes,” Burkett said. “I’m watching her go up the court, weaving in and out between traffic and hit that shot … and shots like that are always big.”
Hartman said she has wanted to be a Pirate since third grade, and said she was nervous joining the varsity team as a freshman, but fell in with the girls almost immediately. She said the team’s closeness helped the Pirates surge in the third quarter.
“I thought the bench really helped us and got us cheering,” Hartman said. “And tomorrow we know what we have to do. All of the teams left are really good so we will just play our best and see what happens.”
Burkett said the team saw a vast improvement in shooting from the first to the second half, shooting 7 of 26 in the first 16 minutes, and 14 of 21 in the second half.
Hackley finished with a team-high 17 points, followed by Cummings with 15 and Valdez with 11.