HUMBOLDT — The Cubs just didn’t seem right early against Southeast (Cherokee) in Monday’s substate game in Humboldt.
The top-seeded Cubs clung to a 17-15 lead midway though the second quarter against the eighth-seeded Lancers and it wasn’t panic time yet for the heavy favorites, but it was far from a stroll in the park.
That is when the Cubs’ talented sophomore class took over to propel them to a 60-37 victory.
“It is amazing to be part of a sophomore class that is so talented and keeps up with the seniors,” Humboldt sophomore Aricah McCall said. “The seniors are great role models.”
McCall — who led the Cubs with 16 points in the game — got it started with a pair of free throws, then sophomore sharp-shooter Maggie Johnson got loose from behind the arc and canned a triple.
“They had to grow up last year,” Humboldt coach Aubrey Jones said of her sophomore class. “I had no seniors last year so that group had to learn to play and know my expectations along with what the upperclassmen expected of them. They have just gotten stronger and stronger and stronger with every game.”
The smallest person on the court was the next to step up. Sophomore defensive specialist Morgan Mauk came up with two steals in a row the resulted in a layup for each of the McCall sisters — Aricah and senior Makaylah.
“It is huge to know that if we do get in that situation, I have a kid that I can give her a specific job and tell her to go do it and she will,” Jones said of Mauk’s defensive ability. “There is never any question about it. She knows what her role and what she needs to do.”
That built the lead to 26-15 after the 9-0 run and a McCall connection on a Makaylah steal and assist to Aricah made the halftime score 28-16.
“It fired us up and reminded us that this is the last chance of the season to play on our home court and we had to leave it all out there,” Aricah McCall said of the spurt to end the first half.
The Lancers quickly cut the margin to eight points early in the third quarter and it stayed there until another Johnson three — this time to beat the third quarter buzzer — found its way to the bottom of the net.
“I was pretty excited,” Johnson said of the clutch three. “It felt really good to contribute that for the team.”
That basket sparked another run, this one fueled by the seniors.
Two-straight Makaylah McCall baskets and the Wells three-pointer, which is featured on the front page, made the score 46-30 and finally the Cubs could breath a little easier.
Seniors — Makaylah McCall, Annalise Whitcomb and Wells — scored 19 of the Cubs’ 21 fourth quarter points and Humboldt stamped its ticket into the substate semifinals.
“We have some unfinished business,” Aricah McCall said in reference to winning substate. “We have to take care of that.”
After Aricah McCall’s 16 points, Makaylah McCall was next on the team with 15 while Johnson and Whitcomb each added 11.
Junior guard Rylan Wilhite got back on the court for the Cubs after missing much of the season with ankle injuries.
Wilhite didn’t play much — just the closing minutes — but Jones wanted to get her onto the court to share the victory with her teammates.
“We are letting her do more and more to break things in and get her going again,” Jones said. “Tonight, more than anything, she has played with the senior longer than anybody and those are her four best friends, so it was a kudos to them. That is what they all wanted and I told them, ‘Okay, I’ll give it to you.’”
Jones cautioned that ideally she would hold Wilhite out of any major action for the rest of the week, hinting towards a possible return if the Cubs advance to the state tournament.
“We are going to use her, but we are going to protect her as much as we can,” Jones said. “We can’t have her getting her when we could hopefully, potentially, need her more later on down-the-line. As bad as the last one was, you don’t want it to be season-ending for anything to come for her as well.”
Humboldt softball coach Brad Piley certainly appreciates that last sentiment. Wilhite figures to be the Cubs’ top pitcher this season.
Humboldt 12 16 8 4 – 40
Southeast 18 5 11 15 – 49
(2pt/3pt-FTM-FTA-Points) Aricah McCall 5/1-3-5-16; Tilar Wells 1/1-0-1-5; Makaylah McCall 5/0-5-7-15; Kaylie Johnson 1/0-0-0-2; Annalise Whitcomb 5/0-1-6-11; Maggie Johnson 1/3-0-0-11. TOTALS: 18/5-9-19-60. FOULED OUT: None.