SALINA — It came out of nowhere.
McPherson High’s girls led No. 1 seed Kansas City Piper just 24-20 as the teams were locked in a defensive struggle in the first half of Friday’s Class 4A Division I State semifinal game.
But in a flash, keyed by a barrage of 3-pointers, the Bullpups erupted for 16 points in less than 3 minutes to start the second half to blow the game open as they pulled away to a 54-38 victory to advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. championship game against Bishop Miege in a rematch of a Dec. 9 game when the Stags were a 62-45 winner.
Miege defeated Circle 50-39 in the other semi at the Tony's Pizza Events Center.
MHS made 6 of 7 shots in that blink-of-an-eye run that covered 2 minutes and 41 seconds, including a couple of bombs by Emma Yowell. Taylor Robertson’s old-fashioned 3-point play capped a 16-2 run that pushed the lead to 18.
"It's a little bit of a flip from our normal game," said MHS coach Chris Strathman, whose team is 21-3 and has won 11 in a row. "We came out kind of in slow motion and a little hesitant. We didn't probably score for the first 2 1/2 or 3 minutes of the game. Normally we start quick and have slow starts in the third quarter. Today we were just the opposite."
MHS had a couple of shaky moments in the fourth quarter, but the cushion was enough for it to move on.
"The goal all along has been to get to the finals," said Strathman, whose team last made the championship game in 2013 when it lost to Wamego after winning the state title in 2012 against Holton. "We want another shot at them (Miege). We're right there, we've got a chance and we'll see what happens.
As has been the case in most big games, Robertson scored 22 points and pulled down 8 rebounds while Mandi Cooks had her second double-double within 24 hours by scoring 17 points and snatching 10 rebounds.
A bonus was the play of poised freshman Lakyn Schieferecke, who looked like an old pro with 6 points, making both her floor shots (one a 3) and also pulled down 3 rebounds.
The Pirates, now 22-2, had no player in double figures as Grace Banes came off the bench to top the chart with 8 points. Alison Vigil, who had played so outstanding the day before, was held to 5 points as Robertson frustrated her into a 2-of-11 performance.
"She did a nice job of containing her," Strathman said. "There were other people who guarded her, too, but Taylor, it was her primary job. When I talked to Taylor before shootaround, I told her 'this is like your Mini Me. I know she's taller than Taylor, but she's younger and she just plays that same way… you know what she's going to do, it's like guarding yourself.'"
MHS will be looking for its ninth state championship overall against the Miege dynasty as the Stags are looking for their 20th in 25 attempts. When the teams played the first time this season, Miege stunned MHS with its vaunted pressure defense that produced a 36-11 halftime lead, but the Bullpups outscored the Stags in the second half, though they never had an answer for Hunter Bentley, who torched them for 29 points.
MHS (54) — E. Yowell 2-5, 0-0, 6; Hett 0-1, 2-3, 2; Robertson 8-16, 3-3, 22; Bruner 0-2, 0-0, 0; M. Cooks 6-10, 5-6, 17; C. Yowell 0-1, 0-0, 0; Hageman 0-2, 1-2, 1; Schieferecke 2-2, 1-2, 6; Sweat 0-0, 0-1, 0. Totals — 18-39, 12-17, 54. 3-pointers — Robertson 3, E. Yowell 2, Schieferecke 1.
Piper (38) — Ford 3-13, 1-1, 7; Morrow 1-4, 1-7, 3; Leslie 2-5, 0-1, 4; Vigil 2-11, 0-0, 5; Cobbins 3-6, 0-0, 7; Banes 2-3, 3-3, 8; Gooch 0-1, 0-0, 0; Thomas 2-3, 0-0, 4. Totals — 15-46, 5-12, 38. 3-pointers — Cobbins 1, Vigil 1, Banes 1.