SALINA — For a half, the dynasty was teetering.
McPherson High’s girls played a near-flawless first half on Saturday in the championship game of the Class 4A Division I State Tournament, leading mighty Bishop Miege 29-24 and holding Stags All-Stater Hunter Bentley well below her normal production.
The Stags’ pressure defense, which had caused MHS so many problems during the first meeting won in December by Miege in decisive fashion, was handled with aplomb by the Bullpups in the first half, the reason they cobbled together their lead.
But Miege wasn’t the three-time defending state champion coming in for nothing. It ramped up the defensive intensity in the second half to grab the lead and then paraded to the free throw line in the final quarter to salt away a 66-59 victory, giving it four state titles in a row and an amazing 20 in 25 state championship game appearances.
For the Bullpups, it was a disappointing end to a magnificent 21-4 season, two of the losses to the Stags. The others were to 6A state semifinalist Olathe South and 5A state qualifier Newton.
"We've got a lot to be proud of," said MHS coach Chris Strathman, as the Bullpups were making their 14th appearance in the state championship game but came up short in their attempt to win title No. 9. "I thought our kids really competed. We did exactly what we asked them to do, we attacked their pressure and handled that extremely well in the first half, way better obviously than we did in December. We were able to get into our offense and if we did that, we knew we'd be able to score."
MHS’ remarkable junior duo of Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks did their best to keep the Bullpups in the running for their first state title since 2012 as they scored 30 and 20 points, respectively, but the other MHS players could combine for only 9.
"They played great and our other kids battled," Strathman said. "They played their roles. Surely we would have liked them to make a couple of shots when they had open looks, but they just didn't happen to go down. Those things happen."
Bentley, who couldn’t get untracked in the first half, scored 22 of her 27 in the second half and she made 14 of 16 free throws, though she was one-upped by Robertson, who made 14 of 15. Bentley scored 29 in the first meeting between the teams.
The other star for Miege was Johnni Gonzalez, whose quickness gave MHS fits as it had no defender that could keep in front of her. She scored 22 points and also was near-automatic at the foul line as she made 8 of 10. The killer, though, may have been sub Jenna Harms, who went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc for 9 points.
"They are both great guards," Strathman said. "Bentley is probably one of the Top 5 by The Eagle and Capital-Journal, at least in my opinion. She's obviously good. The Gonzalez girl is just a sophomore. They both played great. But I didn't anticipate Harms going 3 for 3."
The game’s big play came in the third quarter. With MHS trailing only 44-42, Riley Hett rebounded a missed Stags shot, but Bentley ripped it away from her and scored on a layup and then completed the And-1. MHS turned it over on the very next possession and Bentley scored on another layup, which was the beginning of the end.
These two teams could very well be right back in this game next year. MHS suited up only two seniors, Emma Yowell and Jordan Bruner, while Miege’s only senior of note was Bentley and she’ll be tough to replace, but you can expect Miege to add some quality newcomers next year.
MHS (59) — E. Yowell 1-3, 0-1, 3; Hett 0-0, 1-2, 1; Robertson 6-17, 14-15, 30; Bruner 0-0, 0-0, 0; M. Cooks 8-14, 4-4, 20; C. Yowell 1-4, 0-0, 3; Hageman 0-0, 0-0, 0; Schieferecke 0-3, 0-1, 0; Leaf 1-1, 0-0, 2. Totals — 17-42, 19-23, 59. 3-pointers — Robertson 4, E. Yowell 1, C. Yowell 1.
Miege (66) — Gonzalez 7-13, 8-10, 22; Russell 0-1, 0-0, 0; Bentley 6-11, 14-16, 27; C. Harms 0-2, 0-0, 0; Verhulst 4-6, 0-0, 8; J. Harms 3-4, 0-0, 9; MacDonald 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 20-39, 22-26, 66. 3-pointers — J. Harms 3, Bentley 1.