By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
If Prince of Peace could play the entire game the way it played the last minute of the first half on Thursday night, there’s no telling how far the Irish can go in the girls basketball postseason. If they play the way they did in the first quarter, though, the tournament road will have a dead-end finish.
The Irish overcame a slow start against winless Calamus-Wheatland and defeated the Warriors 56-29 in a Class 1A Region 4 first-round game at Central Catholic Auditorium.
“The girls didn’t come out quite as focused as we wanted,” Prince of Peace coach Maggie Furlong said. “It kind of took us until the last 90 seconds of the first half. Then, we took off from there.”
The Irish (13-10) led for all but the first 2 minutes, 34 seconds, but the first quarter was far from impressive.
Calamus-Wheatland (0-21) scored first on a basket by Stephanie Petersen, but it trailed just 7-4 after one quarter.
Megan Mulholland tied the game with a steal and layup, then a 3-pointer from the right corner by Jackie Kokjohn (11 points) put the Irish ahead to stay with 5:26 remaining in the quarter. Julia Isenhour scored in traffic in the lane for a 7-2 lead, then the Irish went the final 4:14 of the quarter without a score.
“We just needed to pick it up as a team, and we decided to do it,” Prince of Peace junior Karli Atkinson said.
Atkinson helped jumpstart the offense.
“Our gameplan was to focus on Julia (Isenhour’s, Prince of Peace’s top scorer this season) and make others beat us,’ Cal-Wheat coach Alan Seabrooke said.
Atkinson took care of that, scoring 10 of her game-high 16 points in the second quarter.
“It’s been happening a lot lately that people step up when we need points,” Furlong said. “It’s nice to have second and third options when people take Julia out of the equation.”
Atkinson played a key role as Prince of Peace took Cal-Wheat out of the game late in the first half.
She had scored half the points in an 8-2 run that gave the Irish a 15-6 lead with 5:54 left in the half, but the Warriors pulled within 19-13 when Ramsie O’Neill scored in the lane with 1:20 left in the half.
But the Irish turned up the intensity in the final minute.
“We had to get the momentum going our way, and we created opportunities,” Atkinson said.
The opportunities created a 9-0 run to close the half and extend the Irish’s lead to 28-13 at the half.
Atkinson got it started scoring from the free-throw line on an inbounds play with 56 seconds left. Isen-hour scored on a transition layup, then added a free throw 11 seconds later to make it 24-13 with :18.9 left.
Mulholland made a steal in the backcourt and found Atkinson for a layup with :15 left, then the Irish got the ball back on another turnover and Mulholland found Atkinson inside for a basket with a second left.
The Irish’s defense continued to create problems in the second half, when they pushed the lead to as large as 28 points.
“Their pressure helped them a lot,” Seabrooke said.
“I’m very happy with our defense,” Atkinson said. “We’re talking, communicating and playing team defense.”
They’ll need more of the same Tuesday when they face 14th-ranked Preston (15-6) in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal-round game in Preston.
“I think (Thursday’s game) helps get the nerves out a bit,” Furlong said. “It didn’t start out the way we wanted, but, hopefully, we’ve got that out of the way.”
The entire season didn’t go the way the Warriors wanted, but Seabrooke said progress was made.
“We improved quite a bit throughout the year,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids (there was one senior on the team), and we’re going to stress working hard in the offseason, and, hopefully, we can change the culture in the offseason.”
PRINCE OF PEACE 56,
CAL-WHEAT (0-21) — Megan Slattery 0 0-0 0, Tessa Kauffman (0 0-0 0, Sydney Kerr 0 0-0 0, Jaelyn Diercks 0 0-0 0, Rebecca VanderHeiden 5 0-0 10, Makenna Christensen 0 0-0 0, McKenna Luepker 3 0-0 6, Stephanie Petersen 1 0-0 2, Dana Koester 0 0-0 0, Abbie Moellenbeck 1 1-2 3, Nina Cray 0 0-0 0, Ramsie O’Neill 3 0-0 8. Totals 13 1-2 29.
PRINCE OF PEACE (13-10) — Krista Atkinson 1 0-0 2, Jackie Kokjohn 5 0-0 11, Andrea Aquilani 1 0-0 3, Megan Mulholland 3 1-2 8, Erin Kuehn 0 0-0 0, Karli Atkinson 5 6-7 16, Sydney Laufenberg 2 1-6 5, Halee Vicks 1 1-2 3, Julia Isenhour 2 2-4 6, Lauren Pittman 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 11-21 56.
Cal-Wheat 4 9 5 11 — 29
Prince of Peace 7 21 17 11 — 56
3-point goals — Cal-Wheat 2 (O’Neill 2); Prince of Peace 3 (Kokjohn, Aquilani, Mulholland). Total fouls — Cal-Wheat 20, Prince of Peace 11. Fouled out — Luepker.