CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- St. Joseph senior guard Mychal Johnson sees it in opponents' eyes all the time.
Whenever the Fighting Irish dial up their full-court pressure, panic sets in and the game usually swings in their favor.
Such was the case Friday afternoon as top-seeded St. Joe wreaked havoc in the second quarter in pulling away from No. 4 Tucker County for a 63-31 win in the Class A girls basketball state tournament semifinals. A crowd of 3,000 attended the three-game morning session at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Irish (24-1), the four-time defending champions, will be chasing history today when they go for their fifth straight title against No. 3 St. Marys (25-1) at noon in the championship game. The Blue Devils edged Wheeling Central 45-43 in Friday's other semifinal.
St. Joe began pressing Tucker midway through the second quarter, sparking an 18-0 run to end the opening half with a commanding 39-19 lead.
Tucker trailed by just two points, 21-19, and had turned the ball over just nine times before St. Joe went to the pressure, which led to 10 more miscues for the Mountain Lions (20-6) in the second quarter and a boatload of points for the Irish. Tucker finished with 20 turnovers in the first half that led to 22 of St. Joe's 39 points.
"They don't know what to do,'' said Johnson of opponents' reaction to St. Joe's defense. "We're in their face and they don't have anywhere to go.
"We're one pass away, waiting for the ball to be rotated for us to get a steal. We're really athletic and all five of us can pressure the ball. It's not going to be easy for them once we're up in their face.''
St. Joe tallied the first six points of the third period as its surge reached 24-0 and forged ahead 45-19 with 7:04 to go in the quarter before cruising the rest of the way. The Irish mined 38 points off the Mountain Lion's 32 turnovers.
Tucker edged within two points (21-19) on junior center Savannah Ambrose's baseline jumper with 4:47 left before halftime. That's when St. Joe swung the momentum for good, leaving Tucker in the dust.
It didn't help Tucker when Amber Evans had to sit out an extended time during St. Joe's run in the second quarter with foul trouble. Evans led Tucker with nine points, nine rebounds and five steals.