My candidate for McPherson High sports team most likely to take a step back this spring was the Bullpup baseball team.
Was I ever wrong.
The Bullpups had graduated back-to-back monster senior classes, many of the players having played a key role in MHS reaching the Class 4A Division I state championship game against Topeka Hayden in 2015.
When I evaluated this 2018 Bullpup team, there were considerable concerns. The starting pitching was questionable outside of Dylan Werries and I wondered where the offense was going to come from. Also, nearly every starting position was up for grabs and my guess was if this team could come close to .500 it would be a fine coaching job by Heath Gerstner.
But on Monday, the Bullpups were especially sharp in sweeping a good Wellington team as well as Goddard to finish the regular season at 14-6, exceeding last year’s win total. Starting pitchers Werries and Zane Myers were nails, the offense was explosive and the defense, sans one bad inning, sparkled.
The offense perhaps has surprised me the most. With 17 more runs on Monday, MHS finished the regular season having scored 172 in its 20 games, just under 9 a game. The team batting average eclipsed .300 and despite having entered the game with just 2 homers on the year, the Bullpups went yard as three balls were launched into the jet stream on the warmest day of the year to play.
The pitching also has surprised. Gerstner has used Werries almost exclusively out of the bullpen, but with regionals around the corner next week he started for only the second time and delivered a complete game. Myers had worked the first game and was splendid for six shutout innings before being nicked for three final-inning runs. But he, too, went the route and it will be a fresh staff that heads to Hays in seven days for the regional.
MHS is still in line for the No. 1 seed and the Bullpups will be interested spectators today as Hays hosts Andover Central. A Hays loss in either game would give MHS the No. 1 seed, which would be important as it wants to avoid the Indians and Buhler in the first round, both of those teams being state ranked. If MHS secures the top spot, it would play Ulysses.
That would set up an interesting decision for Gerstner. If MHS does play Ulysses, does he throw, say, Myers in Game 1 and save Werries for the championship game? Or does he go with Werries to make sure the Bullpups make the championship game (there’s no guarantees of course, but Werries has been solid).
Class 4A Division I is there to be had. Here are the leaders of the eight regionals:
• At Altamont — Chanute (11-8) has clinched the top seed.
• At Augusta — Augusta (14-6) has the edge at this point. But Andover Central is 11-5 and plays at Hays today.
• At Baldwin — Wamego (13-3) is easily the top seed.
• At Eudora — Bonner Springs (11-6) is the top seed, but Miege (10-10) is always dangerous just because it’s Miege.
• At Paola — Paola (14-4) is the best of the field.
• At Tonganoxie — Atchison (13-5) is the only team with a winning record.
• At Winfield — Arkansas City (14-4) has the No. 1 seed sewn up.
So if the Bullpups can find their way to state, their chances are as good as anybody. There’s no Hayden like three years ago when it dominated field. It’s going to be which team can get hot for three games.
Give Gerstner and the Bullpups a lot of credit. No matter what happens the rest of the way, expectations have been wildly exceeded.