The Rose Hill boys were understandably excited after stunning Wellington last Saturday to earn a Class 4A Division I State Basketball Tournament berth.
Less than 24 hours later, reality set in.
The Rockets, by winning two games last week, erased the bad taste of a 6-14 regular season. When the state pairings were released on Sunday, though, they found out they’d be playing a McPherson team that had pounded them twice during the regular season.
The third meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Salina’s Bicentennial Center. MHS is hoping to advance to Friday’s 8:15 p.m. semifinal game against the winner of Andover Central (18-4) and Wamego (19-3).
On the other side of the bracket, the early games match Coffeyville (13-9) against Paola (20-2), while Eudora (16-6) takes on Bishop Miege (19-3).
The Bullpups enter Thursday with a 21-1 record as they are attempting to pull off a 3-peat, having knocked off Basehor-Linwood last year in the championship game after vanquishing Topeka Hayden in the 2014 finals.
But veteran coach Kurt Kinnamon, whose team is now 69-2 over its last 71 games with one of the losses coming at the buzzer to Missouri power Blue Springs South, says the 3-peat term hasn’t been talked about much and there’s no added pressure of trying to pull off the rare feat.
“No, different team, different year, different opponents,” he said, noting every season is a new chapter and what has happened in the past is in the past.
Human nature would seemingly dictate that MHS will be supremely confident going into Thursday since Rose Hill has put up little resistance in the first two games. Last time the teams met in Rose Hill, Drew Pyle and Ben Pyle put on a shooting exhibition the likes seldom seen, making 9 of 11 3-pointers in the first half alone on their way to 39 points before the break.
But Kinnamon has been around long enough to know that anything can happen and he’s sure Rose Hill will pull out every stop it has in its upset attempt.
“We are being very careful not to overlook Rose Hill,” said Kinnamon, who has led the Bullpups to six state championships as he’s in his 21st year. “They obviously have played better at the end of the year.”
The Rockets have two very good players in guard Parker Austin and forward Brett Bonar.
“Bonar had 27 points and 12 rebounds against Wellington,” said Kinnamon, noting he’s a good athlete.
If the Bullpups simply take care of business, it will meet either Andover Central or Wamego in the semifinals. Kinnamon said Andover Central really turned up the heat in its sub-state championship game against Andale and has one of the state’s top talents in Darraja Parnell, who is a scoring machine and capable of going for 40 on any given night. Wamego opened some eyes by putting a 68-52 whipping on Abilene, which has been ranked all season.
“Andover Central has one of the most athletic teams in the state and Wamego has a good combination of size and shooting ability,” Kinnamon said.
The Bullpup coach fully expects Miege to advance from the other side of the bracket, even though Paola could be formidable. The addition of 6-11 Bol Bol, son of the late NBA star Manute Bol, and 6-8 freshman phenom Jonathan Robinson-Earl, son of former KU standout Lester Earl, have greaty improved the Stags, who often toil in the shadow of their girls’ program but this year are carving out their own niche.