In my more than 40 years of sports writing in McPherson, basketball has unquestionably been the king.
For both boys and girls, the sport has ruled the pulse of local fans, though in recent years football has been charging hard – starting with the Tom Young era in 2006.
But I’ve been beyond blessed to cover the quality of McPherson High’s teams, with the boys having won 10 state championships under my watch and the girls nine. The boys had won three before my arrival, but I felt somewhat of a kinship with those teams since I went to Independence Community Junior College with two Bullpup stars from those title teams, Jeff Kline and Rick Stout. They were vital cogs for Pirate teams that were among the best in the nation.
I was asked on Thursday about the most exciting games I’ve ever covered involving the Bullpups. I have to admit the list is long and no answer is a bad answer. Of course, the state championship games you would think would rank at the top, but I remember a few other games that were beyond pulsating.
By my calculations, I’ve covered just more than 2,000 Bullpup games. This is my list of most impactful games I’ve covered. And again, many of these were not state championship games because MHS teams won several of their title games by comfortable margins.
1. McPherson girls 62, Bishop Miege 58, overtime
This will forever be known to me as the “Dagger Game.” In the Class 4A 2018 state championship game, a Miege 3-pointer put the Bullpups down by 9 points with just over 2 minutes to go. Miege was loaded with incredible talent, had a Hall of Fame coach in Terry English and never beat itself. I was doing color commentary with Jim Joyner on 96.7 KBBE and immediately said, “that’s the dagger.”
But MHS coach Chris Strathman’s team didn’t give in. Key 3-pointers by Andrea Sweat and the big one by Riley Hett, along with some defensive stops, eventually forged the game into overtime, which was clinched, appropriately, by two free throws from Kansas’ Miss Basketball Taylor Robertson. To defeat a team like Miege facing such insurmountable odds will be difficult to duplicate.
2. McPherson girls 57, Bishop Miege 49
On March 14, 1981, the Bullpups were again matched with Bishop Miege for the 5A state title and, at the time, its young coach Terry English. The Stags had walloped MHS 77-38 in the previous year’s Class 5A state championship game and while there was more hope this time around since Miege no longer had Angie Snider (who is the mother to the Gonzalez twins who played against MHS in the 2018 championship game), there was some semblance of hope.
But MHS coach John Hoffman and his team, coming off an emotional win the night before against bitter arch-rival Newton, had enough energy left in the tank to outlast the Stags 57-49, which sent shockwaves throughout the state.
3. McPherson boys 88, Newton 86, OT
On Feb. 28, 2019, the Bullpups hosted Newton in the first round of sub-state. MHS was coming off five straight years of playing for the state championship, losing three years in a row to Bishop Miege after having defeated Basehor-Linwood and Topeka Hayden.
It was a wildly high-scoring affair as underdog Newton wouldn’t go away behind some tremendous 3-point shooting. MHS appeared to be in dire straits on numerous occasions, but four missed free throws late by the Railers gave the Bullpups a pulse and one of the most famous shots in McPherson history occurred as Jace Kinnamon hit a bank 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime as the Roundhouse crowd was as loud as I’ve ever heard it. In the extra session, Kyler Hoppes’ two free throws in the closing seconds broke the 86-all tie to give the Bullpups the win. They would go on to lose two nights later in the sub-state finals at Bishop Carroll, ending their run of state title appearances.
4. McPherson boys 97, Garden City 55
You might ask what’s so exciting about this game from Jan. 18, 1991, in the semifinals of the McPherson Invitational and a 42-point laugher.
But the atmosphere around this game was rife with anticipation. Garden City came into the tournament with a talented team with big-time athletes and there was talk that some of their players believed they could pull off the upset. Brandy Perryman, who later played at Texas, was a star freshman guard for that team and the Buffs also had a couple of quality big men.
But the Bullpups took this as a challenge and to me, the most talented team in McPherson history had the Roundhouse hoarse within 10 minutes. MHS blazed out to a 29-point first quarter and had 63 points by halftime on its way to the rout. This team featured still the most talented starting five in Bullpup history – Brian Henson, Bryan Vincent, Ryan Herrs, Jonathan Coachman and Jason Totman, with Mike Henson directing from the bench.
5. McPherson boys 57, Buhler 54, 6 overtimes
On Valentine’s Day in 1984, the two arch-rivals played an epic at Buhler’s tiny gym, which later was the scene of a classic sub-state game two years later before the Crusaders eventually moved into the more-spacious Jim Baker Field House.
For so many overtimes being played, the score was low, especially for a Bullpup team that had so many offensive weapons. Neither team would give an inch and in the end, the Bullpups – led by future NBA player Steve Henson – would finally stand alone in the winner’s circle.
6. McPherson girls 36, Newton 35
The two Ark Valley League rivals met March 13, 1982, for the Class 5A state championship.
At the time, this was arguably the best girls rivalry in the state and the teams wound up meeting an incredible four times that season. They opened the year playing each other, with Newton winning 28-20 in a sluggish game. Newton then outlasted MHS 43-38 in the finals of the Newton Invitational.
The very next game, the teams played again with the Bullpups gaining confidence with a 44-31 victory.
In the fourth and final meeting in the finals, the Bullpups and Railers played another methodical, defensive game. MHS was able to prevail in the end to repeat as state champion.
7. McPherson boys 39, Liberal 37, OT
It was the semifinals of the 1993 Class 5A State Tournament at the cavernous Expo Center in Topeka and the Bullpups faced a formidable challenge from Liberal.
The Redskins possessed the state’s best player in future NBA player Martin Lewis, as well as future Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jerame Tuman, a massive inside presence.
The Bullpups were known for their breathless up-tempo style, but coach Mike Henson sensed that as good as his team was, it couldn’t keep pace with the pure athleticism of Liberal.
So he slowed the tempo, which frustrated the Redskins – and especially Lewis – to no end. MHS wound up squeaking out the overtime victory and Liberal fans were none-too-pleased with the Bullpups’ plodding tortoise-like pace. MHS would go on to lose to Schlagle in the state finals.
This was a Bullpup team whose core would go on the following year to go undefeated.
8. McPherson girls 53, Salina South 44
This, to me, was the game, that put the MHS girls’ program back on the map.
It took place on March 8, 1997, in the sub-state finals at the then-Salina Bicentennial Center. Two years earlier, MHS had been undefeated, but lost to the Cougars at home in the sub-state finals, to this day one of the most difficult losses in MHS history.
South was undefeated at 21-0 in 1997 and was led by 6-3 center Alyssa Shriver, while the Bullpups were loaded with sophomores, including starters Kristina Barrow, Candace James and Chaunzey Rierson. Barrow hit some key 3-pointers in the second half as the Bullpups pulled away for a 53-44 victory and they used that as a springboard to winning the first of three straight state championships, beating rival Miege 65-56 in the finals.
9. Buhler boys 50, McPherson 47
I didn’t say all the memories had to be good ones.
This game on March 8, 1986, to this day, is still talked about and is one that will forever stick in the craw of any MHS fan, especially the ones who went to Buhler that night who were turned away at the door.
Buhler’s gym was no match for the Bullpup wave of supporters who made the 15-minute drive south. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for MHS to have more fans at games than the opponents. Bullpup fans lived, breathed and slept MHS basketball.
The teams had met in the finals of the McPherson Invitational, with the Bullpups winning just 57-51. But they later met in the regular season and MHS rolled to a 77-58 road victory.
In the sub-state finals, the Bullpups – who had lost their first game of game of the season but then reeled off 19 in a row – simply couldn’t make shots and Buhler executed its game plan to perfection. While MHS was No. 1 in the state most of the season, it didn’t matter as Buhler punched its ticket.
10. McPherson girls 34, Holton 27
This was McPherson High’s first year in Class 4A in more than 30 years as this March 10, 2012, state championship game matched the Bullpups with Holton.
The Bullpups played all styles at state that year, winning a track meet against Girard 79-61 in the first round, then grinding out a 49-40 victory over Bonner Springs in the semifinals.
This team reminded me so much of KU’s 1988 “Danny and the Miracles,” with Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year Katelyn Loecker playing the role of Danny Manning and her teammates comprising “The Miracles.”
Holton was coming off a state championship the year before and was going for back-to-back undefeated seasons. But Loecker literally willed this team to victory and I can remember the clock seemingly being frozen as MHS tried to run the game out in the fourth quarter.
I picked this game just over the girls’ 2005 state title game against Shawnee Heights when Marlies Gipson amazingly blocked 14 shots. I’d still like to go back to the tape because to this day some believe she had as many as 17 blocks as the Bullpups completed a perfect 25-0 season in what was Scott Schaefer’s last year as head coach.
Another game that didn’t make the cut, but probably should, was the boys’ 2003 state title win over Highland Park, a 76-69 double-overtime dandy at Topeka. This game was pure athleticism on display by both teams.
I know I’m probably forgetting many memorable games, but these stuck out in my mind for a reason. We could probably do a Top 50 there’s so many to choose from.