MHS girls strong favorite to advance

By Steve Sell
March 03, 2017

If the McPherson High girls play the way they have been all season, they’ll be in the field of eight at next week’s Class 4A Division I State Basketball Tournament at Salina.

Plain and simple.

The Bullpups are clearly the best team in the field at Buhler, with their first game tonight against the host Crusaders, a team they have beaten by a combined 64 points in two games.

I know Buhler can try something different —it has thrown just about everything at MHS but the kitchen sink — but the outcome is practically inevitable. There’s no Jessica Steffen to rescue the Crusaders, who are painfully young and in a rebuilding mode.

Then it’s either Hays or Ulysses in Saturday’s title game, with the smart money on Hays. The Indians did show some promise in the Mid America Classic by winning their last two games, but they are somewhat offensively challenged and probably don’t have the firepower to stay with the Bullpups.

I’m sure MHS coach Chris Strathman and his team is taking nothing for granted. It wants to get back to Salina and cleanse the bitter taste of last year’s first-round loss to Labette County.

This has been such a dominant season for the Bullpups, who have only two seniors and two juniors. 

This is a quick-striking team whose pressure defense often has decided games by the end of the first quarter. The Bullpups have had some devastating and overwhelming starts and as the season went on they got better at avoiding third-quarter letdowns that plagued them early on.

The Bullpups have won by double digits in all 17 of their victories. When you look at the losses, they were to Miege (a game MHS played well in the second half after being shellshocked in the first half), Newton (on a last-second shot) and Olathe South (ranked No. 2 in Class 6A, a game the Bullpups were right there until a third-quarter drought).

Of course, every opponent’s defense is geared to stopping the irrepressible Taylor Robertson, a strong candidate for All-State All-Class first team. Robertson has found herself the subject of various junk-type defenses, but has adapted better and better. Don’t be surprised if she is guarded by two players most of the weekend.

Mandi Cooks is as good a center as there is in 4A and is a double-double waiting to happen. 

The other Bullpups definitely know their roles. Riley Hett and Jordan Bruner have developed into lockdown defenders and Hett has hit some timely 3-pointers, the staple of the Bullpups’ offense. Emma Yowell knows just where to spot up for open 3s and also is aggressive on the defensive end.

Strathman, because of so many blowouts, has been afforded the luxury of bringing along his young players and spotting them with valuable varsity minutes. He can go 10-deep and his second-team players could start for a lot of teams.

Winning when you’re expected to sometimes is more difficult than when you’re an underdog. But the way the Bullpups start games, I don’t see that happening this weekend as they’ll make their usual trip to Salina next week.