DENVER - The St. Mary’s girls’ basketball team watched what happened to No. 3 Pagosa Springs on Friday and decided they wouldn’t let Colorado Springs Christian School deliver the same fate Saturday in the Class 3A state championship, a rematch of last year’s final, at the University of Denver.
The No. 2 Lions drained 12 3-pointers on the way to a 24-point semifinal win, and the top-seeded St. Mary’s Pirates were watching in plain sight under one basket before a convincing win of their own Friday.
“They love to shoot 3-pointers and they’re deadly at that,” St. Mary’s coach Mike Burkett said.
Saturday’s matchup featured the top two seeds in the bracket with each team’s only loss coming to the other. Few secrets exist between the two rivals, but if the Pirates could limit the Lions from deep, they liked their chances.
“We know if we can take away the 3-pointer and make them get inside and work hard for their points, we’ll get the win out of it,” junior Seneca Hackley said.
The Pirates almost entirely took away the long ball in a 56-34 win for a second straight state title.
Senior Abby Knedler hit the Lions' only 3-pointer to bring CSCS within 17 with five minutes to play. It was too little, too late, and Knedler seemingly knew as much as she rolled her eyes after the make. CSCS finished 1 of 18 from deep.
“So we’re leading the nation in 3s per game, and we go for 1 for 18,” CSCS coach Mark Engesser said, struggling to come to terms with numbers that jumped off the box score. “I didn’t even realize that. I just kept seeing us miss.”
CSCS senior Rachel Ingram scored off a nice feed from freshman Elleah Hoekert to give the Lions a 4-3 lead two minutes in, but Mackenzie Pepper scored on the other end before Josephine Howery’s three-point play made it 8-4 midway through the quarter, and St. Mary’s led the rest of the way.
The Pirates started to pull away after freshman Ellie Hartman came off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second in the final 10 seconds of the quarter, and St. Mary’s led 15-7 after one.
Hartman surpassed her 6.7 points per game with the Pirates’ first bucket of the second quarter and finished with 16, just behind Hackley’s game-high 18.
“She’s kinda been my change-of-pace girl coming off the bench,” Burkett said.
The early 3-pointers gave Hartman confidence to open up the rest of her game.
“It definitely did, and my teammates are confident in me, so it makes it a lot easier,” she confirmed.
She got to the basket and finished a pair of three-point plays in her highest scoring output.
The Pirates led 27-16 at the break and stretched it to 40-22 after three behind triples from Hackley and Howery.
St. Mary’s finished 6 for 11 from deep after entering with a percentage in the high 20s.
“We’re not as good as they are at shooting those,” Burkett admitted.
They were Saturday, and the prep careers of Knedler, Ingram and Megan Engesser, who led the team with 10 points after hitting 2,000 for her career in Friday’s win, came to an abrupt end. Engesser fouled out and both the senior and her coach picked up technical fouls as the Pirate faithful started to celebrate.
“We missed layups, we missed open 3s,” the CSCS coach said. “Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the refereeing. It was a perfect storm.”
The Pirates capitalized and celebrated with a “back-to-back” chant that was easily heard outside the locker room.
Burkett wasn’t ready to talk three-peat, and his top freshman was on the same page, choosing to honor Pepper and Kylie Barta, the two seniors on the roster who finished atop 3A for the second straight year.
“I think right now, we’re just enjoying this year and our two awesome seniors on the team. Then, when it becomes next year, we’ll worry about that,” Hartman said.
“It was so much fun. The team is just great.”