SALINA — McPherson High’s boys were 19 points closer against Bishop Miege on Saturday than they were in December.
But they were still 14 short.
The Bullpups, who lost by 33 points to the Stags in the third game of the season, put a tremendous scare into the defending Class 4A Division I state champions in the state finals by leading 29-28 after a perfectly executed first half.
But just as in the girls title game between the same schools that preceded it, the Stags struck like lightning to start the second half and the Bullpups could never recover in losing a 67-53 decision.
Miege had won last year’s title game by 10, then thumped the Bullpups 87-54 in that forgettable Roundhouse matchup on Dec. 9.
But there was no domination in this one.
The Stags trailed by one at the half even though they shot 75 percent, making 12 of 16 — including a passel of dunks by super soph Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Miege, though, took advantage of some missed and hurried shots by the Bullpups to start the second half to hit them with a 10-2 run. From there, MHS never got closer than 5.
“I don’t know if we ever had them where we wanted them, but I was happy where we were,” MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said of the first half. “I thought our triangle defense did a good job of befuddling them. I’ve got to credit (assistant coach) Treg Fawl with the idea, I know he put a lot of thought and time into it. I thought it was really effective. Bottom line, you can’t get outrebounded 26-11, you just can’t.”
The Stags’ height and wingspans of the 6-8 Robinson-Earl and 6-6 Francesco Baddochi was too much for MHS to overcome. Miege doubled MHS in points in the paint (32-16) and it had 6 offensive rebounds, which led to 10 second-chance points.
Give the Bullpups the first 3 minutes of the second half over and they might have been carting off championship No. 14.
Miege scored the first basket and then MHS panicked a bit by rushing some ill-timed shots.
“It’s such a fine line between good shot-bad shot because we can make them,” Kinnamon said. “We can make tough shots. They have made them all year. It’s difficult to know what is a good shot and bad shot.”
The Bullpups were 6-4 at one point this season before catching fire to win 14 straight prior to Saturday as they finished 20-5.
“I’m certainly proud of our team and how hard they played,” Kinnamon said. “They go to the free throw line 23 times and we go to the line 4 times. They’re bigger and we probably did foul more than them. That’s disappointing.”
Ben Pyle completed an All-World tournament with 25 points, but because Miege only missed 9 shots in the entire game — 23 of 32 — he had only 4 rebounds as he was coming off games of 23 points and 17 rebounds, then 27 and 11 in the semifinals.
Mason Alexander added 15 points and knocked down a trio of 3-pointers. MHS lost even though it turned the ball over a minuscule 5 times.
Baddochi, who figured to be the toughest matchup problem even though he’s not the team’s most heralded player, put up staggering numbers of 21 points and 13 rebounds. Robinson-Earl had 16 points, Semaj Ray added 12 and Ezekiel Lopes added 10. Amazingly, the Stags’ starters played all but 5 minutes as Baddochi, Robinson-Earl and Landry Weber all played the entire 32 minutes, Ray played 30 and Lopes 28.
The Bullpups fully expect to make a state championship run again next year as they will be looking to make the finals for the fifth year in a row. Their entire team is back since there were no seniors.
MHS (53) — Labertew 3-3, 1-1, 7; M. Alexander 6-18, 0-0, 15; Jk. Alexander 2-6, 0-1, 6; Diggs 0-1, 0-0, 0; Pyle 10-20, 2-2, 25; Seidl 0-0, 0-0, 0; Jy. Alexander 0-0, 0-0, 0. Totals — 21-48, 3-4, 53. 3-pointers — M. Alexander 3, Pyle 2, Jk. Alexander 2.
Miege (67) — Ray 5-7, 0-0, 12; Lopes 3-3, 1-2, 10; Robinson-Earl 7-10, 2-3, 16; Weber 2-4, 4-6, 8; Baddochi 6-8, 9-12, 21. 3-pointers — Lopes 3, Ray 2.