Paul Klee: St. Mary's girls emerge as team to beat in Class 3A girls basketball state tournament

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Photo - St. Mary's sophomore Seneca Hackley, center, is fouled by by Cedaredge sophomore Makayla Kehmeier in the 3A CHSAA Girls Basketball State Tournament at Hamilton Gym at the University of Denver on Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Denver. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
St. Mary's sophomore Seneca Hackley, center, is fouled by by Cedaredge sophomore Makayla Kehmeier in the 3A CHSAA Girls Basketball State Tournament at Hamilton Gym at the University of Denver on Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Denver. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

DENVER — There was this one possession on Thursday morning — early, too, with an 8:45 a.m. tipoff that made it impossible for St. Mary’s to be fully warmed up — that showed why the Pirates are the team to beat in the Class 3A girls basketball state tournament.

Yes, the team to beat — from the No. 3 seed.

Anyway, about that possession: Brooklyn Valdez (she’s a sophomore, ahem) whipped a 30-foot pass to Seneca Hackley (also a sophomore, and a future college star), who snapped a one-timer to Makenna Bodette (a senior who led everyone with 22 points) on a textbook fast break. Ball never touched the floor, the gang of green fans behind the bench roared, and St. Mary’s opened a 40-14 lead against Cedaredge.

That’s pretty much how this quarterfinal went. St. Mary’s won, 64-33, the third straight tournament game the Pirates won by at least 27 points. 

“Easily,” said Cedaredge coach Ryan Hilbig, classy in defeat. “They’re easily the best team we’ve seen.”

Same here, and that’s because St. Mary’s is the team to beat in 3A. You’ll have to ignore the little numbers in the bracket. The bracket says No. 1 Kent Denver and No. 2 Pagosa Springs are superior — RPI is as silly in high school ball as it is in seeding the NCAA Tournament — and that’s cool. 

Maybe that’s how it plays out — Pagosa Springs and Kent Denver in the state championship on Saturday, like the bracket suggests — but I’d wager one of those hot dogs at DU’s Hamilton Gym that St. Mary’s wins two more games and Seneca Hackley, one of the stud sophomores I was talking about, earns a spot on the All-Tournament team, if there is an All-Tournament team.

Seneca is really good — “College good,” as St. Mary’s coach Mike Burkett told me — and while her scoring numbers aren’t what they will be as an upperclassmen, her court smarts, defense and passing (the best thing about the best team in 3A) are mature. She’s piqued the interest of some Division II and Division III programs, and when it’s all said and done, Hackley will play Division I ball. There's your scouting report, area college coaches. Get on that.

“It’s my dream to play in college,” Hackley said.

St. Mary’s plays like a coach’s dream. It’s not a good passing team; it’s a fantastic passing team. The Pirates zip the ball around as if the last one to hold it loses. It’s EPL soccer-style passing, one touch here, another touch here, with the rare possession when one player dribbles more than twice. I asked the Pirates if players are forced to run sprints if they dribble. (They don’t. It just seems that way.) The box score said the Pirates had five assists.

On the first five possessions, maybe.

St. Mary’s led 13-0, 17-1, 22-1 and, at halftime, 37-10. The Pirates built a 42-10 lead when a handful of Cedaredge parents began hounding the referees, which is kind of like yelling at the mailman when he leaves an eviction notice.

“Call it both ways, stripes!”

“The refs are St. Mary’s alumni!”

“They get $100 for every foul they call on us!”

Really, guys? When you're down 32?

Back to St. Mary’s. The Pirates are 24-1, the lone loss a one-point job to Colorado Springs Christian back in February, so the Pirates can be beat.

Now they are the team to beat. 

Twitter: @bypaulklee