McPherson High’s boys gave their loyal faithful a respite.
After emotionally roller-coasting their fans by nearly losing their McPherson Invitational opener on Thursday, they took the semifinal game with Carroll by the throat on Friday by nearly running the Eagles out of the gym in the first half before settling for a no-stress 57-36 victory.
MHS, now 10-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class 4A Division I, will face Class 6A’s No. 5 team, 9-1 Lawrence Free State, in Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game. The Firebirds are back to being fully stocked as four players who missed Thursday’s opener returned on Friday, including Hunter Gudde, who threw down a 37-point salvo on Junction City in the semifinals even though he came off the bench.
It was the Bullpups’ defense that set the tone as they allowed Carroll just three field goals in the first half to race to a 33-13 lead. The dragnet continued in the third quarter as Carroll scored only seven points before the game turned into a turnover-filled, free-for-all, with the Eagles scoring nearly half of their points with 16.
"I thought we did a really good job defensively," said MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team held the Eagles to 3 of 12 in the first half and forced nine turnovers. "I don't know if there was that much emphasis on it… I think collectively last night we did a poor job of being positive. When things got a little rough, we (coaches) started sniping at them. I wasn't positive enough… our scouting report said, 'we're going to make mistakes.' I got home and felt bad how I had coached the game and I felt bad how we played… I got home last night and felt it's stupid to be mad a kid for missing free throws because we've never had a kid miss a free throw on purpose. So I vowed in the locker room that I would try and be more positive."
The Bullpups were up 44-20 going into the final quarter as nothing Carroll tried offensively against MHS' lengthy defense worked. The Eagles finished the game 10 of 27 from the field and turned it over 19 times.
Drew Pyle tossed in 21 points for MHS, while Spenser Wine added 11. Big games off the bench were contributed by Drew Labertew, Wyatt Seidl and Jake Alexander. Labertew, because of foul trouble, played more than half the game, Seidl did his usual ferocious job on the boards and Alexander flashed the glimpses that water the mouths of Bullpup fans as he's just starting to tap into his vast potential.
Free State will be a handful. It plays a big-time schedule and will have no fear of McPherson.
"They're a very nice team. You look at them and they're kind of like us," Kinnamon said. "You're not overwhelmed with their size or physical stature, but they're just a bunch of tough, hard-nosed kids. It should be a great game, great atmosphere."