Three games into the season, the furthest thing on the mind of the McPherson High boys basketball team was making it to a sixth straight state championship game.
The Bullpups, the Class 4A Division I runner-up the last 3 years after winning it back-to-back in 2014-15, sent seismic tremors throughout their supporters by starting 0-3, the first time that had happened in 46 years. The sky was falling, the sky was falling the Chicken Littles were crying.
The Bullpups though, as you would expect under veteran coach Kurt Kinnamon, straightened themselves out and went on an eight-game rampage and then made the championship game of the McPherson Invitational, a game they appeared to have in hand before losing to Class 6A Shawnee Mission East.
After a string of indifferent, though winning, performances, the thin ice they had been skating on finally gave way and the Bullpups fell into the water at Towanda when Jude Warren unloaded for an improbable 50 points after the Bullpups had never allowed 40 to a player.
They did close with a robust, confidence-building victory over a good Augusta team on Senior Night. The only problem was it was the final game for more than a week as tonight's opening-round sub-state game at the Roundhouse against Newton will mark 10 days since the win over the Orioles.
We’ve often said this is a Bullpup team that doesn’t have nearly the margin of error as past teams. While the Bullpups have had several Big 3 teams like this one (Jake Alexander, Cody Stufflebean and Max Alexander), they don’t have quite the depth of those teams that made the state finals year after year.
It’s a team whose shooting at times has gone on hiatus, but all you need to know is how well it shot it against Augusta (30 of 47) and that’s why it was too bad there such a gap between games.
A 14-5 record, to me, was highly creditable — especially after an 0-3 start. There was the early season ankle injury to Jake Alexander, which took away his explosiveness through December. They lost key backup Hayes Schmid for the year to cancer treatments. There were also some games you figured the Bullpups would have no trouble, yet they kept some teams in them for three quarters before putting it away.
Tonight's game has all the makings of being close. Newton’s outstanding junior Ty Berry is arguably the most gifted player the Bullpups have faced this season, yes even better than Warren. Berry is going to be a D-I recruit and given the fact MHS gave up 50 points to Warren and 24 in the finale to Augusta's Zach Burton, there has to be defensive concerns. The Bullpups as a team gave up 150 points in their final two games.
A Bullpup victory and most likely it’s off to Wichita on Saturday to play Carroll, a very tough place to play. The Golden Eagles are the defending Class 5A state champion and they’re not about to relinquish their title without putting up the most fierce of fights.