Even had McPherson High’s basketball teams lost their close games with Abilene on Tuesday, they would have helped the Bullpups far more than their earlier-season routs of overmatched opponents.
Winning both just made it that much better.
The MHS teams proved they could go on the road and hold up under the scrutiny of a hostile environment against ranked-and-experienced teams.
I believe the girls were helped even more than the boys.
MHS had greatly relied on sophomore standouts Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks for the brunt of their offense through three games. Against Abilene, the athletic Kamryn Collins made her presence known with 16 points and Emma Yowell casted aside her shooting slump with three important 3-pointers that loosened up the defense.
MHS coach Chris Strathman has maintained all season that he has several capable scorers. Collins did most of her damage with slashing drives to the basket and it appeared Abilene never did figure out that she’s left-handed. She time and again made difficult layups and also had the confidence to swish a rare 3-pointer. She had scored 17 points in the JV game right before, so she had a good vibe going.
Strathman knows that Yowell can shoot the basketball with proficiency, she’s got a proven track record. She appeared to be more balanced on her shot instead of drifting and you could just see her relax once the first couple went down.
Robertson and Cooks were, well, Robertson and Cooks. Robertson continues to play with so much patience, not forcing shots. She took only eight on this night as Abilene was running a variety of players at her and she still finished with 16 points, continuing a trend where she scores twice as many points as shots taken. Cooks, going up against Fort Hays State signee Belle Barbieri, outplayed her more heralded rival and showed a lot of aggressiveness and fire.
Strathman also designed a nice defensive plan that had Ashtyn Schiefercke and Ally Ulsaker taking turns on Barbieri, with Cooks coming over to help out.
It was a nice win for the girls, especially against an Abilene team with all five starters back, two of them who have committed to NCAA Division II schools. What they took from that game far exceeds what was gained from the lopsided wins over El Dorado and Andover, as well as a mild push from Winfield.
For the Bullpup boys, this also was a victory of note. Abilene is probably the best 2-2 team in the state now, as it also has lost to a very good Rock Creek team.
McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon had to be concerned at halftime when the Pyle brothers, Drew and Ben, had combined for all 26 points as some of his younger players seemed to have their heads on a swivel against the experienced Cowboys.
The other Bullpups, however, became more engaged in the second half, including seven points from Marcus McDaniel. This game, more than any other so far, showed just how much they miss the injured Spenser Wine, who is expected back at some point in January. Right now, the Bullpups aren’t getting much scoring from two spots on the floor, but Wine’s return will change the dynamic.
It was good for MHS to play a team with size and good shooters. Abilene probably didn’t get it inside enough to Eric Harms, though he did make 12 of 14 free throws but just two field goals. The Bullpups blanketed Harley Hazlett, an athletic forward, throughout the night and took him out of the game emotionally. There’s not many nights he’s going to score just seven points, but he was clearly frustrated and affected by some calls that he didn’t agree with.
Abilene’s boys probably should make state, though Ottawa is the host and the Cyclones have a recent strong tradition and can’t be overlooked. El Dorado and Wamego are the other teams in the sub-state.
MHS now looks ahead to Blue Springs South, probably the best team it has played since 2011 and the Perry Ellis, Evan Wessel-led Wichita Heights Falcons, who were in the midst of a 62-game winning streak. MHS now has won 44 in a row, but there hasn’t been that much talk about it and that’s the way Kinnamon probably wants it as he never brings the topic up.
The Bullpups probably will be giving away some athleticism to the big-school team from Missouri, which is the defending state champion. This surely has to be one of the highlight games on the docket.