PRESCOTT VALLEY - There was a little noise coming from Santa Rita's locker room after its 4A-II state semifinal game against Palo Verde. But just a little. And it didn't last long.
After all, this feeling is nothing new.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Eagles won their semifinal game - this time 85-68 over their east-side rivals, the No. 6 Titans - and will meet No. 1 Amphitheater in Saturday's state championship.
Terrell Stoglin led the No. 2 Eagles with 27 points, and Santa Rita's ability to shut down Palo Verde guard Bryce Cotton came up equally huge.
Cotton had been averaging 36 points per game so far in the tournament before running into a wall on Thursday night. Santa Rita held the senior to just seven points.
"The key to the game was just to play defense," Stoglin said. "Our defensive strategy was to watch out for the three-pointer and stop the penetration of Bryce.
"We know if we play good defense we can beat anybody. Defense wins championships."
Meanwhile, Santa Rita had an NBA night from long range, going 10 for 17 from beyond the arc. Four of those threes came during a huge second quarter in which Santa Rita used a 20-3 run to storm out to a 39-23 lead.
Palo Verde narrowed the gap to 39-28 by halftime but never seriously threatened Santa Rita's lead.
"If Andre (Hatchett) and Dominique (Kelley) hadn't have hit some big threes, it could have been a different game," Santa Rita coach Jim Ferguson said. "I think that opened it up so that we could get control. We almost forced them to go man-to-man and get them out of their zone."
Hatchett went for 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Kelley chipped in a much appreciated 16.
Ferguson said he noticed early on that Palo Verde's primary focus was Stoglin, even at the cost of leaving Hatchett and Kelley open.
The two seniors capitalized.
"I think we showed that Andre and Dominique are very capable players," Ferguson said. "I think if you put them on (different teams), they are the stars of those teams. They are two of the best players in the city."
Palo Verde's Juan Serrano scored two minutes into the third quarter to cut Santa Rita's lead to 41-34 but Palo Verde would get no closer.
"Our goal was that if we got a lead, we needed to stay focused on keeping that lead and continuing to build it," Hatchett said. "We were all extremely focused on that."
Hatchett feels the time has come for Santa Rita to be on the winning side.
"There's something about this year," Hatchett said. "Honestly, I can feel it. Everybody feels it.
"Besides, (Amphi) is all juniors. They can win it next year. We have to win it this year."
• No. 1 Amphitheater 85, No. 5 Gilbert Williams Field 61: At Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, Amphi used a 30-point third quarter to overcome a halftime deficit and run away to another dominant win.
Amphi entered Thursday averaging 91 points per game during the state tournament, but trailed Williams Field 36-35 at halftime.
Sophomore Tim Derksen, who finished with a game-high 23 points, said the only halftime changes had to do with tightening defensive traps.
"We had the tempo where we wanted it," Derksen said. "We just had to start playing a little bit smarter basketball."
The Panthers emerged from the break a different-looking team. They forced six turnovers over the first two minutes of the second half, turning a one-point deficit to a 50-38 lead.
On StarNet: View more photos of the semifinals at azstarnet.com/gallery