Between scorers Caroline Ballard and Darby Price, Manhattan High head coach Scott Mall knows he may have to sit one or the other because of foul trouble.
Friday night, there was no choice.
Both of the Indians’ top scorers from a year ago were saddled with fouls by halftime, forcing Mall to go to his bench to replace them both.
The results were encouraging for a team that brings back plenty of experience at the guard spots but is thinner at forward as the Indians defeated Derby, 53-47, to open its season.
“That was tough because they’re such a key part of our team on both ends of the floor, you’d really like to have the choice on whether to play them or not or to give them a rest and not be forced on you,” Mall said. “Darby sat most of the first half and quite a bit of the second half, then Caroline got her fourth, then Amara (Ehie) got her fourth, and that was tough, because those were three pretty good offensive threats for us sitting on the bench.”
With a combined 45 fouls in the game, Manhattan’s depth ended up being the difference, as the Indians had nine players score in the game compared to just six for Derby.
Early on, it looked as if Manhattan (1-0) would pull away from the Panthers with a nine-point second-quarter lead. But Derby clawed its way back into the game by forcing eight second-quarter turnovers and shooting well from the free-throw line, finishing the half 11 for 18 and drawing 13 Manhattan fouls.
“There in the first half when we were up, then we sent them to the free-throw line with fouls on the wrong end of the court — that was big,” Mall said. “It kept them in the ballgame. But for our first game, we battled through it against a team that’s a tough matchup for us. It’s a good win.”
The teams went back and forth until Manhattan found some separation early in the fourth quarter with six straight points from Ehie, who was often able to dribble past her defender for easy layups while finishing with a team-high 13 points.
“Amara did a great job,” Mall said. “We had good contributions from our bench. Some of them were a little slow starting but they came around and played well late. Kylie James and Erika Hairgrove both gave us some good minutes when we were without Darby and Caroline in there.”
Ehie, who played sparingly last year as a reserve, played with physical defense on the perimeter and was able to get through Derby’s man-to-man defense.
“I’m mostly known for left-hand driving, but I did some right-hand today,” Ehie said. “I tried to shoot a bit, but I’m still working on my shooting.
“Most of our team is really good at shooting, so they played on you and were really spread out because of their defense. I didn’t play much last year, so they didn’t know what all I could do. Now they know I can drive.”
While Ehie was the only scorer in double figures for the Indians, Savannah Roberts and Savannah Thaemert each had eight points to help supplement the missing production from Ballard and Price, who finished with seven and five points, respectively.
For Derby (0-1), instead of Madi Greenwood leading the way, it was sophomore forward Grace Mitchell, who finished with 14 points and at 6-foot-1, proved to be a matchup problem for Manhattan’s forwards.
“We fouled the Mitchell girl, and she put us in a bad spot,” Mall said. “Because she can shoot the ball and take it to the basket really hard and we really need to work on stopping that with someone like her.”
Manhattan finished the night 19 of 50 from the field, while holding Derby to a 27 percent shooting percentage at 13 of 47.
While the win was a good result, Mall knows his team has plenty to work on in the coming days, including fouling less.
“You get used to doing some things in practice sometimes and you think you’re going to get away with them in the game,” Mall said. “And then you don’t.”
While the posts struggled with fouls, Manhattan’s guards were a bright spot as new starters Roberts and Thaemert each played well, with Molly Fiser doing some good things off the bench.
“I thought Savannah Roberts did a great job,” Mall said. “She hit some big shots early when we needed them and played great defense — she was guarding the Greenwood girl a lot of the time.
“And Savannah Thaemert, who has been sick, did an excellent job defensively and with taking care of the ball and making things happen. Molly Fiser came in and got used to it a little bit and then did a lot of good things after that, so that was good to see.”
Manhattan skips the midweek games this week and travels to Dodge City Friday night before playing at Great Bend on Saturday afternoon.