Chris Strathman could only shake his head as the numbers jumped off the stat sheet following his McPherson High girls’ 53-45 first-round loss to Labette County on Wednesday in the first round of the Class 4A Division I State Basketball Tournament at the Bicentennial Center.
A 43-32 rebounding deficit. Just 1 of 20 from 3-point range. Only 19 of 59 from the field overall.
All numbers the Bullpups had not experienced during their first 22 games that had produced 20 wins.
Early on the cold shooting could be contributed to nerves. The Bullpups came out going a thousand miles an hour and needed to take a deep breath as the adrenaline was pumping and they were rushing shots.
But it didn’t get a whole lot better. After going 4 of 13 in the first quarter, the Bullpups were 4 of 18 in the second. They took 13 3-pointers — which has been a huge part of their offense this year — and made only one.
The second half was a carbon copy. MHS was 9 of 28 from the field, 0 of 7 from 3-point. The final 32 percent had to rank among the lowest number, if not the lowest all year.
This promised to be competitive game since Labette entered with the same record as the Bullpups (20-2) and played a similar style.
However, the team from tiny Altamont — it’s near Parsons — had a quickness advantage and the rebounding numbers, honestly, were stunning. Clancie Sorrell, who was my MVP even though super soph Tristan Gegg scored 30 points — went off for 17 points and 10 rebounds, numbers she has seldom approached all season.
The Grizzlies, who often have made state but not been a factor in several years, shattered the myth that a team from the Southeast Kansas League can’t play at this level. Not since 1993 has an SEK girls team won state, that achieved by Independence as it defeated the Bullpups 54-34 in the Class 5A finals.
The loss denied the Bullpups a shot at two-time defending state champion Bishop Miege, which looked like a machine in the game before. The Stags toyed with Andale and could have named their margin as their veteran team was steely efficient. I didn’t see the first two games, but my sports writing colleagues told me it should be a Miege coronation unless either Labette, Paola or Wellington can play a near-perfect game.
For the Bullpups, it was still a noteworthy season. Twenty wins, and league and sub-state championships are nothing to be hanging heads about. They just picked a bad time for their normal strengths to turn into weaknesses.
The future certainly looks bright as nine players who suited up on Wednesday return, along with JV and freshmen teams that didn’t lose a game, not to mention help continues to flow in from the wildly successful middle school program. This year’s eighth-graders lost only two games, both to Hutchinson.
The hubs will again be Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks, who will be juniors. They’ll be a year older and hopefully much stronger next year. Robertson got her first taste of consistent box-and-one defenses, something that she’ll have to get used to the next two years, which is why adding strength next year will be so important. Cooks never was healthy the final half of the season, so hopefully she’ll be 100 percent next year. She has a nice post-up game and should spend a lot of time going to the foul line.
Emma Yowell will be the other returning starter and she’s been a lockdown defender and at times a red-hot 3-point shooter.
Kamryn Collins, who provided instant offense off the bench, is a top candidate to fill one of the two open spots vacated by seniors Ashtyn Schieferecke and Paige Schmidt. Strathman has a number of ways he can go to complete the lineup, which is going to need some size to give Cooks help on the boards. Jordan Bruner, Rylee Schrader, Morgan Howard, Riley Hett and Emma Ellet were other players who suited up Wednesday, with Bruner the only one playing. She has the defensive skills to be a stopper and has improved in her career.
A key will be the development of the younger players and how much they work on their games this summer. Who knows, there could be a player or two that improves leaps and bounds by putting in the time to get better.
The Bullpup program will be in the title talk next year. Miege loses seven seniors, but of course it can reload overnight as it gets players from everywhere. Wellington’s top players are seniors, Labette returns super soph Tristan Gegg but not much else and Paola sees star Morgan Laudan move on.
The MHS program is in good shape for the foreseeable future.