By Grant Barrett, Ad Astra Radio
SALINA, Kan. – After a third-place finish in 2022, and the graduation of just two seniors, the McPherson Bullpup Boys Basketball team once again set their sights on returning back to Salina, for another deep run, and after defeating Bishop Miege in a 60-54 thriller, the Pups found themselves in the state title game for 27th time, but their first appearance since 2018.
In previous years, Hugoton had bounced around between Class 3A and 4A, and this year found themselves in a similar situation as Bullpup fans, where they had the luxury of cheering on their teams in back-to-back games at the state tournament.
After the Hugoton Lady Eagles claimed third in the consolation game, the atmosphere was electric going into the next contest between McPherson and Hugoton Boys for a chance at the state title.
It was the one-seed taking on the two-seed in the tournament, and top-seeded Hugoton started the game with back-to-back baskets before Hugoton would drain a step-back three-pointer from well beyond the arc, as they would take a 7-0 lead before McPherson Coach Kurt Kinnamon would call a timeout.
The Bullpups would trail 19-9 after a quarter, and in the second, Cory Muehler would close the gap with an and-one, before Kreighton Kanitz made it a 26-20 MHS deficit, but every time the Pups would gather momentum, Hugton would come up with a deflating basket, as they would take a 33-22 lead into the locker room. “Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team,” said Coach Kinnamon, who knew how dangerous the Eagles could be, after scouting them against over ten opponents. “They’ve got three guys that shoot over forty percent from three.” he said, “They were ten for twenty-four tonight.”
McPherson would outscore the Eagles in the third quarter, as Kyden Thompson would get it as close as 41-37, but Hugoton would score just before the conclusion of the period to make it a two-possession game, as the Pups would go into the fourth, trailing 43-37.
The Bullpups would have a number of shots halfway down, before spinning out, while Hugton would find the friendly roll, and they would come out firing in the fourth quarter, forcing two McPherson timeouts, after the first still couldn’t cool down the Eagles, as their lead reached as many as 12 with 4:19 remaining.
Cory Muehler continued to be resilient, knocking down a couple of shots and the free-throw line as well as from behind the arc, cutting the Hugoton lead to six with under a minute left, the Eagles would knock off McPherson 67-58.
Coach Kinnamon talked about the timely baskets that the Eagles converted, saying, “Every time we would make a run, they’d make a shot so give them credit.” Kinnamon added, “I can’t think of a lot of wide-open looks that we gave them. We closed out and we had high hands. It’s not like they were playing horse, they just did a great job of shooting the ball.”
Coach Kinnamon talked about how proud he was saying, “Our guys fought and we got it back to four. Sometimes when you have to fight that hard to get back in it, it gets difficult.”
The Pups finish with an overall record of 21-4 and will lose one senior in Mason Miller, who finishes his Bullpup career with three state appearances, a second-place medal (2023), and two third-place medals (2021 and 2022).
“They made that leap from third place to second place and hopefully when they’re seniors, it’ll be a state championship,” Kinnamon said. “When you look at our roster, it’s so young. Mason Miller is and was an incredible key to our success this year. He kind of got thrown in there and beat around as a sophomore and then last year he improved. This year, he was just a great presence for us so he will be difficult to replace. It’s hard when he’s the last one out of his class still playing.”
Kinnamon concluded by reflecting on the season as a whole, saying, “It was a great season just from the standpoint of some seasons you’re waiting for the hammer to drop or something to come up,” He made the comparison, by saying. “Somebody does something silly, or somebody’s not getting along, or somebody’s tweeting something out. Not a lick of problems with this year’s group. That’s a testament to them and a testament to their parents.”
O. Pyle 6 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast
C. Muehler 22 pts, 4 reb
K. Thompson 17 pts, 7 reb, 3 stl, 2 ast
Kr. Kanitz 7 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast
M. Miller 5 pts, 4 reb
G. Pyle 4 reb, 4 ast, 1 blk, 1 stl
G. Wedel 2 reb, 1 pt
The Bullpup Girls took the court next, going up against a familiar opponent, the Bishop Miege Stags, who haven’t lost a championship since they were defeated by McPherson in 2018. McPherson came into the tournament the number two seed, after defeating Andale in the semifinals, while Miege knocked off top-seeded Wellington, before defeating Hugoton.
Karter Alvord would open the game with a three before the teams would exchange baskets in an opening quarter that included 5 ties, and a couple of lead changes, before Madi Moors would knock down a three-pointer just before time expired on the period, giving McPherson a 17-14 lead.
The Stags would settle in defensively in the second quarter, holding the Pups to just 6 points period, and opened with a 7-0 run themselves, using that momentum to extend their lead to 30-23 at the half.
It was a tremendous third-quarter rally for the Bullpups, as Jordan Sears would collect the rebound, and lead the break, leaving open opportunities for Karter Alvord and Alexis Dukes to knock down open shots from behind the arc, and eventually tying the game at 41-41 before the Stags would score just before the buzzer.
“We made an awesome run at them in the third quarter and early fourth,” said Strathman, “When Miege gets away from you a little bit, they’re as good as anybody in the history of girls’ basketball at maintaining leads.”
He mentioned how proud he was of his team and the way that they fought, saying, “We were down seven at half. If our fans didn’t see much fight out of our kids, they weren’t watching the ballgame,” Coach Strathman said, “I was very proud of our kids and the effort that they put forth.”
Strathman reflected after the game, saying “Defensively, I thought this team got to be really, really good by the end of the year. You look up today and they score sixty-seven, (but) a lot of those were free throws and things late and a lot of those were live ball turnovers, which there really is no defense for,”
Jordan Sears battled foul trouble throughout the night and picked up her fifth foul early in the fourth. Miege would play keep away from the Pups the rest of the way, knocking down free throws, and McPherson struggled from the field, making the final score more lopsided than the game was played, as the Pups fell 67-53. “Hats off to them because they put the pressure on us the whole game and eventually we kind of cracked a little bit with that and that hurt us.”
“I’m very, very proud of our girls.” said Head Coach Chris Strathman following the game, adding, “When you get to this game, you’re getting to where you want to be,”
Strathman reflected on the 22-3 overall season and looked forward to what’s ahead saying, “We have phenomenal kids on our team and I’m really thankful and blessed as a coach that I get to work with those girls for four months, plus another good month in June in the summer. They may get a little tired of me, but I don’t get very tired of them, that’s for sure,” Strathman said. “We have some great players coming back. We have a great eighth grade and great seventh grade coming up and the future is bright.”
“I told our girls in the locker room that when you play for us, you get to experience the highest of the highs but also you feel like it’s the lowest of the lows. There are a lot of teams that get beat every year in sub-state and that’s when their season ends every single time. Ours, fortunately, is usually at state and sometimes we get the elation of winning and sometimes you get the kick in the gut of coming up just short.” Coach Strathman concluded by saying, “I wish we got a couple of W’s, but it wasn’t in the cards today. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon.”
J. McLeod 5 pts, 6 reb, 2 ast
K. Alvord 17 pts, 1 reb,
C. Clevenger 5 pts, 2 ast, 1 reb
J. Sears 6 pts, 8 reb 3 ast, 2 blk, 1 stl
A. Dukes 9 pts, 2 reb
M. Moors 3 pts, 1 reb
Av. Romero 6 pts, 4 ast, 2 reb, 1 stl
R. Eilrich 2 pts