SALINA — If McPherson High girls coach Chris Strathman was paid by the substitution Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Class 4A Division I State Tournament, he could probably retire.
Strathman masterfully kept a revolving door going at the scorer’s table as he tried to protect star juniors Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks, who found themselves in foul trouble in the closely called contest.
Strathman continually used dead balls, fouls and timeouts to keep both of his standouts in the game on the offensive end, then was able to get them out defensively so they were able to make it to the end.
Robertson had 29 points, while Cooks scored 11 and yanked down 13 rebounds, as the Bullpups outlasted Paola 60-54 in a game that had a semifinal or even championship game feel.
“We had to deal with some foul trouble issues, obviously, with Taylor and Mandi in particular,” said Strathman, whose team takes a 20-3 record into Friday’s 3 p.m. semifinal game against No. 1 seed Kansas City Piper, a 45-34 winner over Abilene in the opening game of the day. “So that kind of forced our hand and we had them in and out quite a bit. The girls we were putting in (Hannah Hageman, Maggie Leaf, Claire Yowell and Lakyn Schieferecke) were doing a good job overall. I’m just really proud of how our kids competed today. I knew Paola was going to be a very tough team, that’s the way a 4 vs. 5 (seed) game is supposed to be.”
The game was a roller coaster as MHS led 18-11 after a quarter by making 5 3-pointers, but Paola — making 12 of 15 from the foul line — pulled within 28-25 by the break.
After the Bullpups got out to a 39-31 lead, Paola closed the quarter on a 9-0 rip to take a 40-39 lead into the final period.
MHS immediately responded with the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, even though Robertson picked up her fourth foul with 7:53 left and Cooks picked up her fourth toward the end of the game. The Bullpups made 9 of 10 from the line in the final 56 seconds as they did what great teams are supposed to do.
Emma Yowell knocked down 3 3s in the first half to spark MHS on its early run and she finished with 11 points. “Those 3s were huge,” Strathman said. “That allowed Mandi to have a little more space to work.”
There were some unsung heroes. Riley Hett had 5 points and 5 steals, while Jordan Bruner — despite a bad wheel as she played with a sprained ankle – did an excellent defensive job on Matti Morgan, keeping her in check with 11 points, a total matched by Chandler Karr for team-high honors. Rheanna Leckner and Skyler Williams added 10 apiece as the Panthers missed on their attempt to play for the state title for a third straight year, losing the last two championship games to Miege.
“Those were two evenly matched teams and fortunately we did enough to come out on top today,” Strathman said.
Piper will pose a tough challenge as the Pirates are 22-1 on the year, but probably doesn’t play quite the level of competition as the Bullpups.
“Piper is a very good team, they’ve lost just one game,” Strathman said. “They beat that same Paola team in December in overtime, maybe double-overtime. So we know they are very capable.”
MHS (60) — E. Yowell 3-9, 2-2, 11; Hett 1-6, 2-5, 5; Robertson 10-14, 4-4, 29; Bruner 0-0, 0-1, 0; M. Cooks 2-6, 7-8, 11; C. Yowell 0-1, 0-0, 0; Hageman 1-3, 0-0, 2; Schieferecke 1-2, 0-0, 2; Leaf 0-0, 0-0, 0. Totals — 18-41, 15-21, 60. 3-pointers — Robertson 5. E. Yowell 3, Hett 1.
Paola (54) — Leckner 3-4, 4-4, 10; Morgan 4-9, 2-2, 11; Williams 4-10, 2-4, 10; Hanf 3-7, 1-2, 8; Karr 3-4, 4-4, 11; Edwards 0-3, 4-6, 4. Totals — 17-37, 17-22, 54. 3-pointers — Morgan 1, Hanf 1, Karr 1.