COLUMBIA, Mo. - Marty Gerloff's eyes lit up. Miranda Brandt's did too. Then Brandt went off.
In a rare matchup between Division I players at the Class 1 level, Mercer guard Sierra Michaelis (Missouri) tried to shut down Chamois forward Brandt (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville).
That wasn't going to happen, even with both of them being 5-foot-11. The Chamois senior poured in 23 points on 11-of-16 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds in leading her Lady Pirates to a 62-39 victory in a Class 1 semifinal Thursday night at Hearnes Center.
"Whenever I saw she was guarding Miranda Brandt, that instantly became our game plan, because I knew she couldn't guard her in the post," Gerloff said. "There's not many high-school girls that can. It doesn't matter what class. She is very tough to guard with one person."
Said Brandt: "I did take that as a personal challenge, yes. We're both Division I athletes. I have that respect for her. She's a very good player. I'm glad that we came together as a team and got a win."
Chamois (23-7) now faces top-ranked Walnut Grove (29-2) for the state title at 8:40 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena. The Lady Tigers defeated Chadwick 66-42 in the day's first semifinal.
Maybe the biggest play of the game came midway through the third quarter. Up 38-34, Brandt took the ball to the hole, made the bucket, got fouled and hit the free throw to put Chamois ahead 41-34.
What's so big about that? It was also Michaelis' fourth foul, sending her to the bench with 4:09 left.
Chamois held a 46-34 advantage when Michaelis returned with 1:42 remaining in the third. The Lady Pirates, with the momentum clearly on their side, extended the lead to 50-34 heading into the fourth quarter.
"Yes, very excited," Gerloff said about when he saw Michaelis would be guarding Brandt. "If we can get (Brandt) the ball in the block, you have to foul her or she's going to shoot a layup. She jumps well, she's unbelievably strong. If she gets the ball in the post she's going to score or you've got to foul her."
Said Michaelis: "She was definitely more physical and stronger than I am. It was hard guarding her."
That conventional three-point play was part of a 28-9 second-half edge for Chamois, and was an integral play in a 32-8 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and all of the second half.
When Michaelis fouled out with 5:06 remaining in the game on an offensive foul, it was all but over. Chamois held a 54-39 edge at that point and cruised the rest of the way. Considering Michaelis had a game-high 27 points on 11-of-26 shooting, it was a big blow. She only scored six points after halftime, though.
Michaelis sits 50 points shy of the all-time Missouri scoring mark of 3,724 set by Miller's Hannah Wilkerson from 2007-10.
"We had made an adjustment to push (Michaelis) middle toward our help defense and toward Paige (Nolte), because she's a big girl," Gerloff said of Chamois' second-half defensive effort on Michaelis. "That changed a lot of it."
It was a Brandt-Michaelis showdown early on. The pair combined for the game's first 11 points in the opening three minutes. Michaelis tallied seven on a pair of 3s and a free throw, while Brandt had a pair of layups.
Michaelis finished with 14 points in the first quarter alone after hitting a halfcourt buzzer-beater to give Mercer an 18-16 lead. Brandt finished the frame with six points.
It was more of the same in the second period. With Chamois ahead 23-20, Mercer went on a 10-2 run to pull ahead 30-25. Seven of those points came from Michaelis.
Chamois fought right back, ending the half with nine straight points. Brandt had the first four, while Nolte nailed a 3-pointer to turn a 30-29 deficit into a two-point lead. She then hit a free-throw-line jumper right before the halftime buzzer to put the Lady Pirates ahead 34-30 at the break.
The first-half stats alone were staggering.
Michaelis put up 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range. She also pulled down eight of her team's nine rebounds.
"I'll give (Michaelis) credit," Gerloff said. "She did amazing in the first half. Most of the time we had a hand up and she was fading away and she was hitting those shots. We just made some adjustments."
Brandt tallied 14 points on a near-perfect 7-of-8 from the floor. She also grabbed eight boards, only outdone by her teammate, Nolte, who secured nine rebounds. Alyssa Bullock connected on 3-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc to add nine first-half points.
"Early we had to get a lot of help on her, double teams, and she was still able to score," Mercer coach Dan Owens said of Brandt. "She's a very good player.
"Sierra hasn't guarded a post all year long. She guards guards 90 percent of the time. That was on me as putting her down low. She's not used to guarding a post player at the post. We haven't seen any posts at (Brandt's) level."
Mercer went 11-of-26 (42 percent) from the floor in the opening half, including a sizzling 6-for-13 (46 percent) from 3-point range. Chamois was even better, hitting 14-of-26 attempts from the floor, good for 53.8 percent.
Mercer (28-2) faces Chadwick (25-6) at 8:20 p.m. Friday in the third-place game at Mizzou Arena.
Nolte added 16 points for Chamois, Bullock had 12 and Mehmert added 11. Nolte secured a game-high 15 rebounds, as Chamois held a 48-20 advantage on the boards.