It’s something — an unmatched excellence — that as Bullpup fans we have perhaps selfishly taken for granted.
McPherson High’s boys won’t be making a sixth straight appearance in a state championship basketball game this week.
They won’t even be making a state appearance.
The streak-buster turned out to be Bishop Carroll, which on Saturday never trailed against the Bullpups in a 62-49 victory to advance to Emporia on Thursday for the Class 5A State Tournament. The Golden Eagles certainly have what it takes to give heavy favorite Maize a run for its money, especially if they play with the precision they displayed on Saturday.
For the Bullpups, it was the end to a glorious run that saw them win state championships in 2014 and 2015, while taking second in each of the last three years to Bishop Miege. They provided us with thrills beyond our wildest imagination and re-enforced the belief the program is the gold standard in Kansas along with you-know-who.
And talk about an oddity, when’s the last time state tournament week did not include both the Bullpup and Miege boys? The Stags were stunned in their Class 4A Sub-State championship game at the buzzer by unheralded Southeast Kansas League team Chanute, on the Stags’ home court no less.
It was one of the stranger years by Bullpup standards and at times a struggle for MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon and his staff as it took a while for the chemistry to mesh. They were having to replace an historic senior class and just one starter returned in Jake Alexander. Kyler Hoppes, Jace Kinnamon and Cody Stufflebean all were subs on last year’s state runner-up team, while Max Alexander was basically a brand-new varsity player and was entrusted as the team’s point guard as a sophomore.
It was a rocky road early with the well-documented 0-3 start with losses to Andover, Andover Central and Derby. Kinnamon knew the first three games would be difficult, especially with many of his key players getting a late start due to the Bullpups’ tremendous postseason football run.
But McPherson is McPherson. The Bullpups would close out the regular season winning 15 of their last 17 games, one loss coming in the finals of the McPherson Invitational to 6A Shawnee Mission East and the other on a surreal night in Towanda as Circle star Jude Warren lit up the sky for a mind-boggling 50 points. While there were some near-hiccups over those 17 games, it was a team that for the most part always finished out strong.
The Bullpups played in an instant-classic semifinal Sub-State Tournament game against Newton, as Jace Kinnamon’s bank-shot 3 saved the season, then Hoppes made a couple of free throws with 1.5 seconds left to win it. After a day to gather themselves, the Bullpups went to Wichita to take on a Carroll team that had nearly everybody back from a 5A state title team from a year ago.
The Golden Eagles were textbook on Saturday as they took control of the game early and the Bullpups could never catch up. There were occasions where it appeared the Bullpups might put together some “McPherson Magic,” but the needle was on empty and their season ended with a myriad of turnovers.
Jake Alexander leaves with a myriad of high marks:
• 410-862 FG (48 percent), 126-325 3PT (39 percent), 177-248 FT (71 percent)
• 1,123 Points, 93 Games Played, 12.1 PPG
• 5th in Career Games Played
• 9th in Career Scoring
• 4th in Career Field Goal Attempts
• 8th in Career Field Goals
• 5th in Career 3-point Attempts
• 5th in Career 3-point Field Goals
• 59 Games of 10+ Points (18 as Sr., 19 as Jr., 19 as Soph., 3 as Fr.)
• 17 Games of 20+ Points (11 as Sr., 3 as Jr., 3 as Soph.)
• 2 Games of 30+ Points (2 as Sr.)
• Career High of 35 v Circle Jan. 4, 2019
• 21 Games, 385 Points as Senior
• 23 games, 321 Points as Junior
• 25 games, 319 points as Sophomore
• 24 Games, 98 Points as Freshman
Hoppes and Jace Kinnamon also will be missed. They were never counted on as big scorers, though the Bullpups needed every one of their combined 21 points that they scored against Newton. They did all the little things that sometimes get overlooked.
Looking ahead, the team will revolve around the brutish inside play of Stufflebean and point guard Max Alexander. They’ll surely be joined by Seth Madron, who wowed at times as a freshman and needs only to develop a consistent outside shot to join the pantheon of MHS greats. Stufflebean could put up many double-doubles while Alexander will be one of the better guards around as he’ll be physically bigger and stronger.
Cooper Courtney played valuable minutes and should be a factor next year with added strength to go with his length as he’s a defensive demon. Sam Pyle always gave max effort when he was inserted and Hayes Schmid hopefully will have a clean bill of health as he’s a 3-point sniper.
After that, color the Bullpups green as a lot of youngsters are going to have to grow up on the fly.