SALINA – With 21 State championships to their credit, the Bishop Miege girls realize they have a target on their backs every time they hit the court.
On Wednesday night it was the Chapman Irish who took aim and forced the Stags to find new ways to pull out a victory.
With both of their 6-foot-2 posts, Ashton and Payton Verhulst, tagged with foul trouble, the task of keeping Miege in the game fell to sophomore point guard Emajin McCallop as the Stags fought their way past Chapman, 60-45, in a Class 4A state tournament first-round game at Tony's Pizza Events Center.
“She had one of her best games,” Miege coach Terry English said of McCallop. “She did do some scoring when we got in foul trouble. We just didn’t come ready to play.
“I’m not taking anything away from Chapman. They played a good game, their kids worked hard, and they hustled, but we didn’t play the quality ball we normally play, and it almost cost us.”
Fourth-seeded Miege, which improved to 21-2, will face No. 1 Nickerson, also 21-2, in Friday's 6:30 p.m. semifinal. Chapman, which made its first state tournament appearance since 2006, saw its season ended at 18-5.
In the first quarter, Chapman went to a methodical attack and took advantage of the fact that junior Payton Verhulst drew her second foul just 3:37 into the game and attacked the basket to lead by three on three different occasions.
But it was McCallop’s 3-pointer with time running down that tied the game at 14 after a quarter.
Ashton Verhulst joined her sister on the bench with 4:44 left in the half, and that’s when McCallop took over. Breaking down the Chapman defense, she got to the rim for three baskets and made a defensive play that helped the Stags to intermission up six. Her steal and drive allowed her to kick the ball out to an open Gabbie Henderson-Artis for a three.
“When I saw (the Verhulst sisters) get in foul trouble, this is what I’ve worked for and somebody has to step up and take the leadership role," McCallop said. "And me, being the point guard, this was a perfect opportunity since I was here last year, I’ve got to step up and do what I have to do.”
Ashton Verhulst and McCallop spurred a10-4 run to open the third quarter for a 13-point Miege lead and the Stags were able to use that cushion to hold off the Irish the rest of the way. Chapman got as close as eight, 48-40, with 4:05 left before Miege pulled away for the final margin.
McCallop ended the half with a team-high 12 points, three assists and two steals. She finished the game with a team-high 20 points and five assists. Ashton Verhulst had 14 points and Henderson-Artis 11. McKenna Kirkpatrick led Chapman with 17 points, followed by Ashlynn Bledsoe had 13 and Kylie Adams 10.