There’s a reason they call it “sub” state.
That’s because, in reality, the state tournament starts today for the McPherson High girls and Friday for the MHS boys in far-away Ulysses.
I say that because one loss and that’s it, season over. The two games this week are nothing more than survival.
For the MHS girls, they are simply too talented when compared to the rest of the field not to advance. They are 18-2, 10 games better than Hays, 11 better than Buhler and 15 up on Ulysses. The Bullpups already have crushed Buhler twice, though from people I’ve surveyed they believe the Crusaders will knock off Hays tonight to play the Bullpups on Saturday.
While MHS has been so convincing against the Crusaders, the only doubt that creeps in is because of the presence of Buhler All-Stater Jessica Steffen. She is such a wondrous talent that she can hoist her team on her back. But in both games against the Bullpups this year, she has played below her rarefied standards as MHS coach Chris Strathman has run a raft of fresh defenders at her, be it Emma Yowell, Kamryn Collins or Jordan Bruner. Steffen averaged a modest 12 points in the two games, but she’s been over 30 at times in her career. However, she simply doesn’t have the supporting cast to help her if she’s off her game.
I watched Hays for three games in the Mid America Classic and it has some nice, young players. But pressure defense bothered it back in January and turnovers led to a sixth-place tourney finish.
If the Bullpups just play their game, they should be fine. Hopefully if they advance they can be on the opposite of Miege in the bracket, as the Stags are a slam-dunk favorite to win the championship by most of we media types.
On the boys’ side, if the Bullpups play the way they have the past four or five games, I don’t care if Hays is 16-4 and Buhler is 15-5. Hays has a lot of players back from last year’s team that MHS knocked off in the sub-state finals, while Buhler gave the Bullpups a great game in the first meeting this year, only to be walloped last week, although star guard Noah Webster hardly played because of illness.
I’ll be honest, the Bullpups are better than I expected this year. I knew they’d be plenty good, but I worried about losing the likes of Kyler Kinnamon, Payton Stephens and Nathan Nutter. They brought a lot of toughness to the table, both mentally and physically, and I wasn’t sure this year’s team could replicate that.
But Drew Pyle is having one of the best MHS seasons of all time. His brother Ben is on his way to superstar status by the time he’s a senior. Spenser Wine, Marcus McDaniel and Jacob Loecker are grizzled veterans who play with intensity. The bench, while youthful, is better than any group the Bullpups face. There’s a lot of sophomore talent, not to mention the explosive freshman Jake Alexander.
I think this team has been on a mission all season to get back to Salina for the chance to defend its two championships. 4A D-I is loaded this year with Basehor-Linwood and Miege, but one of those teams will be sitting home because they’re in the same sub-state.
It’s my belief McPherson fans will be wearing out the interstate next week as it’s a hop, skip and jump to Salina.