OK everybody, take a chill pill and exhale.
The anxiety surrounding the 4-hour bus trip to Ulysses, having to play the Buhler girls for a third time and having a boys sub-state where three of the four teams were ranked in the Top 10 is now just a distant memory.
The McPherson High basketball teams survived, which is what sub-state is all about. Both Bullpup teams had running-clock games against Ulysses in the first round, though neither was especially sharp against overmatched opponents.
For the MHS girls, that meant a third matchup with Buhler and All-Stater Jessica Steffen, who finally played her last game against the Bullpups in the finals.
However, the third time wasn’t the charm and the game played out much like the first two. MHS sprinted to a 20-point lead in the third quarter and while it had a lull after that, there was no stress at the end.
The Bullpups avenged last year’s bitter disappointment in the sub-state to the Crusaders when Steffen hit two free throws on a questionable call in the final 2 seconds. They now go to Salina for what appears to be a state tourney that is top-heavy.
MHS and Labette County meet in the first round and both are 20-2. The Bullpups, of course, have tradition on their side as they are an eight-time state champion and the seniors on the team are well acquainted with the Bicentennial Center. Labette County must shake off the stigma that Southeast Kansas teams have a hard time competing at this level since they don’t play the quality of competition during the regular season.
Lurking straight ahead for the winner is Bishop Miege, which is a reason the Bullpups wanted the No. 3 seed as they were tied with Labette and Paola at 20-2. Paola got the nod, though it figures to play undefeated Wellington in the semifinals. I don’t know about the other coaches, but I’m sure they’d much rather take their chances with Wellington than Miege.
Remember, though, the state championship goes through Miege and to win the title you have to play veteran coach Terry English’s Stags at some point.
Meanwhile, the McPherson boys had to ratchet up their game in the finals against Hays. McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon said he’d never seen a team make so many shots in warmups as the Indians and it carried over to the game. They made 11 3-pointers among their 22 field goals, but at some point the long-distance bombing can only take a team so far.
Kinnamon noted that Hays certainly deserved to be in the state field of eight. And, as usual, there was the annual sub-state upset, as Rose Hill stunningly made state with an 8-14 record and its reward is a third game this season with the Bullpups. When last seen against the Rockets, Bullpup brothers Drew and Ben Pyle were going 9 of 11 from 3-point in the first half alone and scoring 39 points before intermission.
The Bullpups have stayed away from Miege, which is the expected favorite to make the finals from the other side of the bracket. Paola is the No. 2 seed, but I don’t believe anybody buys it knocking off the Stags in the semifinals.
With state in Salina, expect a mass exodus of Bullpup fans converging on the Bi-Center. It has become MHS’ home away from home, much like the Topeka Expocentre used to be. It promises to be a grand finale to the season, which hopefully will result in banners being raised in the Roundhouse next December.