CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Joseph's drive for a record-tying fifth straight state championship began in a big way on Wednesday.About the only question for the Irish once the opening tip commenced was whether any tournament records would fall as No. 1 seed St. Joe cruised to an emphatic 89-29 win over No. 8 Man in the first round of the Class A state tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.St. Joseph junior and Notre Dame recruit Mychal Johnson turned in a virtuoso performance, scoring 17 points while adding 10 rebounds, a Class A tournament-record 14 assists, and nine steals, falling one shy of a quadruple-double.Johnson came out facilitating, taking just five first-half shots but dishing out 10 helpers. But she said it wasn't something she came out looking to do."I just go out and play," she said. "I don't try to score first or pass first, whatever is there, is there."While Johnson was stockpiling individual numbers across the board, her teammates were more than holding up their end of the bargain.Fellow junior Griffin Dempsey led all scorers with 27 points, including 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range, while Mychal's sister, freshman Mychelle Johnson, added 16 points, including 12 in the first half. Junior Asia Petitte added 15 points and 10 rebounds as the Irish forced 30 Man turnovers and held the Hillbillies to 21.2 percent shooting.A 32-0 run to start the game, including a 29-0 advantage in the first quarter, is just what St. Joseph coach Shannon Lewis wanted to see from his seasoned group of girls."In some of the earlier games [at the state tournament] it looked like some teams had struggled early in the game," Lewis explained. "So our focus was to come out and be focused and do what we do early in the game. Obviously we got off to a good start with the run in the first quarter, and I thought the kids were focused and played really well. I was really proud of them."
Indeed, four of St. Joe's starting five (Mychal Johnson, Dempsey, Petitte, and Rachel Lee) are junior starters looking for their third state championship during the Irish's current run of four in a row.They are looking to become just the second team in state history to win five-consecutive championships, joining Summers County's run of five (2007-2011).Dempsey admitted that the team's experience paid off to start the game on Wednesday."It's so much more comfortable than freshman year," Dempsey said of the state tournament. "It's not as nerve-wracking. I remember freshman year coming out and being scared as crap and now, I'm just very calm. It's just like another tournament pretty much."The Irish starters were able to accomplish such lofty heights on Wednesday despite not playing the majority of the fourth quarter in which the Irish scored just five points, falling short of the tournament team scoring record by 10 and the margin of victory record by three.Meanwhile, Man scored 10 points in the final period and played hard throughout.
"I think a lot of people take these young ladies for granted," Man coach Tonia Ward said of her team. "They're fighters. They don't quit. They've done everything we've asked them to do. Every time we've gotten them on the court, they've tried their hardest and that's all we can ask from anybody. They've got a lot of spirit and a lot of heart and I'm really proud of them for the effort they've made."Summer Sword led the Hillbillies (15-11) with 13 points and seven rebounds while Taylor Whited chipped in with 10.St. Joseph (23-1) will play the winner of No. 4 Tucker County and No. 5 Williamstown at 1 p.m. on Friday.Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.