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Les Willsey

Staff Writer,

Nike TOC Day 2: St. Mary's winning streak snapped at 49

Dec 22, 2012

St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark called it a heavyweight battle -- his defending mythical national champion Lady Knights vs Santa Ana Mater Dei. It was an adept description.

Mater Dei nearly scored a first-half knockout, building a 17-point lead in the second period. But staggering from the canvas in the second half St. Mary's almost had enough to notch a decision, but fell 57-54 in the semifinals of the Elite Division of the 2012 Nike Tournament of Champions at Hamilton High School.

"I don't think these girls have been behind by 17 points -- ever," Ekmark said. "But they never quit. I don't feel like we lost. We just ran out of time and fouls."

The loss ended St. Mary's 49-game winning streak dating back to Jan 21 of 2011 -- a loss to Pinnacle. St. Mary's (9-1), ranked No. 4 in the latest MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings, made sure they gave a good account of themselves with more focus on their game than usual.

Mater Dei (11-0), No. 9 in the Xcellent Rankings,  jumped on St. Mary's quickly and led 22-14 after the first quarter. A barrage of 3-point field goals -- seven in the first half -- were the main reason the Lady Knights were down 40-23 late in the second period. Four 3s in the first quarter by senior Karlie Samuelson (18 points) and two in the second quarter by her sophomore sister Katie Samuelson (10 points) packed a wallop. Junior guard Peyton Langston added one 3 and  tallied 11 of her 15 points in the opening half. Langston also made two free throws with 55 seconds left that kept St. Mary's just out of reach.

"The good news is we fought back," Ekmark said. "The bad news is we showed up 16 minutes late."

St. Mary's got 16 points from Courtney Ekmark, 14 from Chantel Osahor and 12 from Chloe Johnson. Osahor was the sparkplug on offense in the second half. She scored 10 of her points and took over inside to take the pressure off the Lady Knights' perimeter game. St. Mary's defense put the clamps on the 3s in the second half, allowing just one by Katie Samuelson. That 3, however, was huge. It began the fourth period and improved Mater Dei's lead to 53-47 Both teams scored just seven points each in a rugged final quarter.

Mater Dei squares off in Saturday's (Dec. 22) Elite Division title game against No. 5 Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, MD) at 6:45 p.m. at Hamilton High. Riverdale Baptist was a 57-46 winner over No. 1 Bishop O'Dowd (Oakland, CA) in the other semifinal. St. Mary's and Bishop O'Dowd face off at 4:15 p.m. at Hamilton in the third-place game.

In another game involving an Arizona team in the winner's bracket of its division, Hamilton (13-1) advanced to the Division C title game with a 72-52 win over Reed High (Sparks, NV), at Arizona College Preparatory. Hamitton faces Brea Olinda (Brea, CA) Saturday (Dec. 22) for the Division C title at 11:15 a.m. at Hamilton High. Brea Olinda knocked off Sacramento (CA), 43-38, in the other C semifinal.

Hamilton,the state Division I runner-up last year to St. Mary's, pulled away in the final five minutes after the teams traded runs. Reed was within 52-48 when the Huskies defense and transistion opened up scoring opportunities for several players. Reserve guard Payton Whitmore and starters Kyndall Adams and Ashlee Moore combined to lead a 9-0 burst that boosted the margin to 61-28 with 4:24 to play. Whitmore sank a three and two free throws and Adams and Moore raced to the hoop for layins, finally exhausting Reed's ability to rally.

The mainstays offensively for Hamilton again were Adams and Aliyah Dickson. Adams led the Huskies with 20 points, 16 in the second half. Dickson added 19. The pair combined to make 9-of-10 free throws in the final periiod. Outside shooting and brief, but effective spurts from guards Casey Rowden, Shelby Hartman, Alexa Hogberg and Whitmore were a sight for sore eyes for coach Jeff Kain.

"We do rely a lot on Kyndall and Aliyah, but we have more weapons," Kain said. "We didn't shoot very well from outside in the first game (Thursday). We hit some shots early today, and those girls got confidence from that."

Whitmore, a freshman, ended up with 11 points. Hoberg and Rowden sank 3s late in the second period to help Hamilton take a 28-24 lead to intermission. Rowden and Hartman each buried a couple 10 to 12 footers in the third period. Reed High was led by Gabby Williams, who tallied a game-high 32 poiints.

The only other Arizona team to advance to a division final is Marcos de Niza. The Lady Padres disposed of Marin Catholic late Friday night, 50-42, to run their season record to 10-5. Marcos de Niza plays Horizon Christian Academy Saturday (Dec. 22) at 12:30 p.m. at Perry High for the Division B championship.