Two girls basketball teams quite familiar with the now-Tony’s Pizza Events Center — formerly the Bicentennial Center — will square off in the first round of the Class 4A Division I State Tournament on Thursday in Salina.
McPherson High, eight-time state champions and a Big Dance participant in 22 of the last 25 years, is matched against Paola, which has been the state runner-up in each of the last two years, in the 4:45 p.m. game.
The teams are the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds, respectively, which generally makes for the most competitive game of the day.
The winner moves on to the 3 p.m. game on Friday against the Kansas City Piper-Abilene winner.
The Bullpups certainly have themselves no bargain.
“They are an excellent defensive team every year,” said MHS coach Chris Strathman, whose team is 19-3 compared to the Pirates’ 18-4 mark. “Paola will push the ball in transition, really cut hard out of their offense and sets and they do not hesitate to shoot the 3 at about any time.”
The Pirates have a number of weapons.
“Their top player is Maddi Morgan, 5-8 senior forward,” Strathman said. “She is just a very tough and emotional player that makes everyone better. Morgan is a tough matchup for anyone as she has guard skills (point-forward) for them, but can also post up and cause problems inside. Their other top players in my opinion are Chandler Karr (5-9 senior guard) and Brayden Hanf (5-10 freshman post).”
The Bullpups have won eight straight games since losing to 6A state qualifier Olathe South in the semifinals of the Mid America Classic 7 weeks ago.
“I feel like we are playing our best basketball at the right time,” Strathman said. “There are still some things we will have to do even better though to advance past Paola. Our girls really want to play all weekend, so I am confident that we will compete as hard as we can and leave it all out on the floor.”
Two of Paola’s losses have come to teams in the tourney field. They lost by 10 points to Labette County and by 4 to No. 1 seed Kansas City Piper. Their other losses are to Baldwin and Gardner.
The Pirates didn’t have much trouble in their sub-state with double-digit wins over Fort Scott and Spring Hill.
Strathman sees a lot of intrigue in the games not involving defending state champion Miege, though he’s not automatically passing the Stags to the finals.
“Piper does not have an easy 1-8 draw with Abilene, as I really feel Abilene can give them a great game,” he said. “Labette and Circle should be an excellent matchup. If Circle can find a way to slow down Tristan Gegg from Labette they should win and move on, easier said than done though as we found out last year. The other matchup with Miege and Wellington can be better than most think. Wellington has one of the state's top players in Lauryn Snipes, a 6-0 guard that can also help handle Miege's pressure.”
Catch all the state action for the week on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bullpups Matt Cole on the call.
• THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE •
3:00 — Kansas City Piper (21-1) vs. Abilene (16-6)
4:45 — McPherson (19-3) vs. Paola (18-4)
6:30 — Labette (17-5) vs Circle (20-2)
8:15 — Miege (19-3) vs. Wellington (17-5)