Home sweet home.
McPherson High’s traveling basketball teams might need a compass to find their way to the Roundhouse on Tuesday, as they haven’t played in the cathedral of Kansas basketball for more than a month.
And none other than Buhler will be the opponent in a renewal of the best rivalry currently going for the Bullpups, who have played six of their first seven games on the road.
The girls tip off the action at 6 p.m., with the boys to follow. All the action will be aired on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Chris Swick on the call beginning approximately 5:40.
While both games are important, the onus will be on the boys’ game as it will pit Nos. 2 and 3 in Class 4A Division I as both the Bullpups and Buhler have just one loss.
MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team is 6-1, already was impressed with the Crusaders to begin with, but after seeing them on film he was even concerned as they have the firepower to hang with the Bullpups. The Crusaders have a new coach in former Hutchinson High standout and Hutchinson Juco coach Ryan Swanson, who has replaced the retired Denny Wahlgren.
“They have a lot of the components of a good team — speed, quickness, size, shooters,” Kinnamon said. “They get a lot of their offense off their press, so we have to take care of the ball. (Noah) Webster will be as quick as any guard we have seen including KJ (Robinson) in KC. Jace Williams is a load on the block and we have to keep him off the glass. Tanner Lackey is an outstanding shooter that made six 3s without a miss in the first half against Winfield. It was an impressive display of shooting.”
The Bullpups are coming off a 50-38 slugfest with Augusta, as the Orioles muddied up the game. MHS was up 20 points after three quarters before Augusta made a late run for cosmetic purposes.
MHS is now back at full speed as Spenser Wine returned to action after Christmas. He has averaged seven points through two games as Kinnamon said he’s still getting his legs under him.
This will be a great challenge for Buhler, though, as few teams have been able to solve the long-armed, trapping MHS defense.
The MHS girls certainly will have plenty of motivation in their game. Buhler kept them out of the state tournament last year, only the second time in 20 years the Bullpups didn’t attend the state party.
Jessica Steffen, who hit the two free throws that won that game, is back for her final go-around, but unfortunately most of the other players who helped Buhler make state last year have departed. The Crusaders have just one victory this season and were defeated on Friday by Winfield.
Steffen, of course, will be the focal point of the MHS defense. She already has committed to play next year at Yale and has been a Crusader fixture and star since the first time she stepped on the court. She has an uncanny knack of being able to drive to initiate contact, making a living at the free throw line.
"They present some challenges that some teams cannot, in that they have one of the best individual players in the state in Jessica Steffen," said MHS coach Chris Strathman, whose team is 7-0. "Just like all teams have done, we will focus a lot of our defensive energy on slowing her down the best we can. We hope to play well and continue to improve. A big focus will be to play tougher in all aspects of the game, both physical and mental."
The Bullpups proved on Friday that they can win without their A-game. After blowing out to a big lead early against Augusta, the youthful Orioles stormed back within a point at the half before MHS eventually pulled away 50-32, as three Emma Yowell 3-balls in the third quarter opened up some breathing room.
Strathman said getting back home, however, is going to excite his team. Both the boys and girls actually appeared somewhat emotionally weary on Friday as it was the second of two long road trips during the week.
McPherson fans are expected to turn out in full force, since Buhler of course will bring a large contingent of supporters since it's only 15 minutes away. Bullpup fans are urged to get there about 5:45 to make the atmosphere electric from the outset.