All season, McPherson High boys basketball coach Kurt Kinnamon had an inkling it might come down to this.
McPherson vs. Miege for the Class 4A Division I state championship.
Even when Miege was struggling early to find its identity and the Bullpups were having to overcome the loss of All-Staters Kyler Kinnamon and Payton Stephens, along with blue-collar Nathan Nutter, he knew it. He just knew this was how it was going to play out on the final day of the season.
Of course, the Stags had to get past last year’s runner-up to the Bullpups, No. 2-ranked Basehor-Linwood, on the Bobcats’ home floor in the sub-state finals. And MHS had to defeat No. 5-ranked Hays in its sub-state championship game way out in Ulysses, where you can nearly see the Colorado mountains.
The teams, thankfully, were placed in opposite brackets at Salina. Miege was put to the test in each of its two games leading up to tonight, getting past Eudora and Paola. The Bullpups didn’t have to stress much against Rose Hill, but had to withstand a 3-point bombardment from Andover Central to rally for a 73-68 victory after being down by nine points.
Miege’s win may have come at a price. It may be without starter Francesco Baddochi, a versatile 6-6 swingman who was injured in the first half. He’s a lefty who had 13 points in the first round and is a difficult matchup because he can handle the ball like a guard.
This is a different Miege team than the one the Bullpups defeated last year 79-68 in the semifinals. It has added 6-11 Bol Bol and 6-8 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, both of whom have the pedigree to be stars. Bol, the son of the late NBA star Manute Bol, is a rail-thin GUARD as he plays out on the perimeter and is content to shoot 3s. Robinson-Earl, whose father Lester Earl played at KU, is listed as a freshman but the guy looks like he’s a senior. He is a powerful inside presence and has been the Stags’ best player. He’s going to be a tough matchup for the Bullpups, who need to get him into foul trouble.
The Stags will sit in a 2-3 zone, which means the Bullpups have to be able to knock down some 3-point shots. I have a feeling given Drew Pyle’s history in this tournament, he may be in store for a special night. If he can get off to a fast start, MHS might be able to shoot Miege out of that zone.
Semaj Ray is still around to run the show for the Stags. He can control the tempo with his ballhandling and MHS needs to keep him in check.
MHS certainly should have a crowd advantage as some 2,000 Bullpup fans are expected to make the short drive up I-35. Also, given the size of the Stags, it’s almost got a David vs. Goliath feel to it. The Bullpups are spending the day loading their slingshots and sharpening their axes to chop down the huge trees.