Bullpups came of age during Invite

By Steve Sell
January 23, 2017

The McPherson High boys basketball team that everybody had been hoping for and expecting finally showed up big time for the 53rd annual McPherson Invitational.

There were a lot of doubts surrounding the Bullpups as they entered the tournament, as they had slogged to a 10-point loss, at home no less, to Andale in their last game leading up to the Invite. Granted, the Indians were a ranked team in Class 4A Division II, but the Roundhouse is like a fortress for the Bullpups, designed for an opposing team to go home with a loss.

The task for the Bullpups appeared to be daunting as Shawnee Mission East was a good test in the first round, but they passed it with flying colors. That set up Friday’s game with Maize and it proved to be one of the best games in recent tournament memory as the Bullpups withstood a 3-point onslaught by the Eagles, who made 15 of ‘em, for the victory. MHS also had to overcome an 11-point second-half deficit as the thunderous crowd shook the old Roundhouse to its foundation.

In the championship game, the Bullpups went up against a defensive-minded Manhattan team that featured one of the state’s best point guards in Trevor Hudgins. MHS took command of the game in the third quarter and finished it off strong for a 23rd Invite title.

What I took most out of the tournament was the fire in the belly the Bullpups played with. In the first 10 games it was a team that seemed to lack mental toughness and displayed bad body language. Too many players would make a bad play and immediately the heads would drop, scowls sprouted and shoulders slumped.

But in the Invite it was on to the next play. The Bullpups didn’t seem to let mistakes affect them as greatly. And it helped the mistakes didn’t occur as frequently. Most of all, the kids just seemed to have fun playing basketball again.

Ben Pyle was the deserved MVP and I had Mason Alexander and Jake Alexander on my All-Tournament ballot and the coaches agreed. It’s no secret that offensively the Bullpups need no less than 50 points from the trio on a nightly basis. Pyle totaled 67 points, Jake Alexander had 51 and Mason Alexander chipped in with 46.

It’s also apparent, though, that Thomas Diggs and Drew Labertew are becoming more involved with the offense. I knew it would take Diggs some time to get acclimated this season since he didn’t play last year as he was having some knee problems. Labretew was a key sub off the bench last year and started this year slowly offensively, but there’s never been any question about his defensive work. In fact on our radio broadcast we gave him Player of the Game against Maize (shared with Mason Alexander) as it was his defense that ignited the Bullpups’ comeback from the 11-point deficit as he drew three charges and came up with a clutch steal.

Jayse Alexander and Wyatt Seidl turned in some important minutes off the bench, while sophomores Kyler Hoppes and Jace Kinnamon were able to get some valuable tournament experience.

Looking ahead, MHS has seven games left in the regular season and quite honestly can ill afford another loss. It is a game back of Hays and tied with Buhler in the sub-state seedings, though it does still have Buhler coming here next month. The Bullpups dearly want the No. 1 seed to avoid playing host Buhler in the first round of sub-state. The Crusaders lost a pair of games in the Salina Invitational over the weekend.