SALINA — McPherson High’s boys took a rather circuitous route, but in the end they ended up right where they belong.
After arriving at midseason with a 6-4 record and needing a compass to point them in the right direction, the Bullpups turned their season around by winning the McPherson Invitational.
And they haven’t stopped winning since. Friday’s 61-51 victory over the Andover Central Jaguars in the Class 4A Division I State Tournament semifinals was their 14th in a row and earned them a rematch with Bishop Miege in Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. championship game, the fourth year in a row MHS had played for the title. They lost to the Stags in last year’s finals 69-59 after leading early in the fourth quarter.
The Stags were a 54-36 winner over Abilene in the late game.
It’s a chance for the Bullpups to erase their most humiliating loss of the Kurt Kinnamon era as they lost 87-54 to the Stags in Game 3 of the season. MHS is seeking its 14th state championship, the seventh under Kinnamon. It’s the Bullpups’ 25th appearance in the state title game, the ninth time with Kinnamon as the pilot.
“When we were at 6-4... I wasn’t feeling very good about things,” said Kinnamon, whose senior-less team jumped out to an amazing 26-9 start at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center. “I wasn’t sure we’d be there. Your ultimate dream and goal is to play for the state championship and we’ve been lucky to do it the last four years in a row. It never gets old.”
Ben Pyle, making a strong case for All-State All-Class, came out with fire in his fingertips, knocking down 15 first-quarter points and went on to finish with 27, along with 11 rebounds. That came on the heels of a 23-point, 17-rebound game on Wednesday.
Mason Alexander scored 13 points and had 4 assists, while Jake Alexander tallied 11. Thomas Diggs and Drew Labertew combined to go 5 of 5 from the field and Labertew once again was a defensive dynamo, coming up with a pair of charges.
The starters scored all 61 points.
Andover Central’s ability to shoot from downtown never allowed it to be totally out of the game. It trailed 33-11 at one point in the first half, but drew within 35-22 by the break. MHS went up 41-22 by scoring the first 6 points of the second half, but again the Jags got it back down to 13 at the end of the third quarter. They finished the game on a 15-3 run for cosmetic purposes.
“I thought we guarded pretty well,” Kinnamon said. “They’re hard to guard. I told Jesse (Andover Central coach Herrmann) after the game I’m not going to be surprised to see you back here again next year because they’re so young as well as we’re so young.”
Sophomore sniper Braden Belt, whose shooting proficiency has been likened to Wichita State’s Conner Frankamp, scored 19 points, but no other Jag was in double figures. They were able to make just 19 of 47 shots, while MHS, which started the game 10 of 15, cooled to finish 20 of 44. The Bullpups also had a monster rebounding advantage (30-17) and made 15 of 17 from the line. “A lot of really, really good things took place tonight,” Kinnamon said.
Kinnamon knows Miege offers challenges no other team can. The Bullpups never had a chance in the first game as they were blitzed from the opening tip by the Stags’ stunning shooting display.
“We’re obviously going to have to be more patient,” Kinnamon said. “We’re going to have to have great shots every time down the floor. All those athletes they have, I’m still going to expect it to be some triangle-and-two or junk (defense). I’ll be perfectly happy if the score is 4-2 after the first quarter.”
MHS (61) — Labertew 2-2, 0-0, 4; M. Alexander 3-10, 5-6, 13; Jk. Alexander 2-9, 6-6, 11; Diggs 3-3, 0-0, 6; Pyle 10-16, 4-5, 27; Jy. Alexander 0-4, 0-0, 0. Totals — 20-44, 15-17, 61. 3-pointers — Pyle 3, M. Alexander 2, Jk. Alexander 1.
Andover Central (51) — Bell 3-6, 1-4, 7; N. Taylor 1-4, 0-0, 3; Belt 6-13, 4-4, 19; Anthemides 3-6, 0-0, 6; Leedom 3-12, 1-1, 8; C. Taylor 0-1, 0-0, 0; Washington 2-4, 0-0, 6; Jensen 1-1, 0-0, 2. Totals — 19-47, 6-9, 51. 3-pointers — Belt 3, Washington 2, N. Taylor 1, Leedom 1.