If things play out as expected, Friday’s McPherson High at Bishop Miege basketball games will be the first of two meetings this season between the schools.
The teams are in the midst of home-and-home series, with the Stags sweeping last year’s games at the Roundhouse. The schools then met in the Class 4A Division I state championship games at Salina, with the Stags again posting a sweep.
Friday’s games have a different starting time, 5:30 for the girls and 7:00 for the boys. Those unable to make the long trek to the Kansas City area may tune in to 96.7 KBBE-FM for all the action, with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call.
The MHS girls are coming off an emotionally lifting 54-49 victory over No. 1-ranked Derby as Taylor Robertson scored 24 points and Hannah Hageman was clutch with 16, including 5 late when her 3-pointer gave the Bullpups a one-point lead and then she made two free throws to push the lead to three before MHS tacked on a basket at the buzzer for the final margin.
Miege’s girls are 0-1, having lost a 67-65 decision to Dowling Catholic of Iowa, one of the top teams in that state.
“That was a great game between two great teams, it came down to the wire just like our game versus Derby,” MHS coach Chris Strathman said.
Strathman said it will be the normal Miege powerhouse that his team will try to solve.
“Miege will be a different style from Derby, but they are very good as usual,” he said. “They return most of their team from last year, the only key loss was Hunter Bentley. Their two best returnees are Johnni Gonzales (5-8 point guard) and Ashton Verhulst (6-3 center). I've heard that Verhulst has committed to K-State already as a sophomore. Her sister, Peyton, is a 6-2 freshman forward and is one of the top freshmen in the state, just a great athlete and player.”
Then there’s Faith Hawthorne, another freshman, who scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds against Dowling Catholic. She’s 6-1 as the Stags can go 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 on the front line.
Johnni Gonzales is joined in the backcourt by her twin sister, Jordynn. In the meeting at the Roundhouse last year, they gave the Bullpups fits with their defensive quickness, forcing MHS into a cadre of turnovers. MHS did a much better job of handling the pressure in the second meeting.
It will be a relief for MHS, though, that Bentley graduated. She torched the Bullpups in both games last year.
No matter the outcome, Strathman said this will be a good test for his team and tell him a lot of the state of the Bullpups.
“We look forward to our trip to KC,” he said. “It will be our first trip to Miege in our history, so this is pretty special. We expect a great crowd in attendance and it should be a lot of fun for our kids to experience the environment. The girls should have a lot of confidence after beating Derby, but our work this week is only half-done.”
MHS is 5-9 lifetime in its games with Miege.
The McPherson boys, on the other hand, have gone 4-4 in their matchups with the Stags, the last three going Miege’s way, including two championship-game victories.
Like the girls, the Bullpup boys gained confidence on Tuesday by walloping No. 4-ranked Derby 73-58, with the lead at one point 26 points before the Panthers closed with a rush for cosmetic purposes.
Miege’s only game has been a 74-22 rout of Kansas City East Christian.
The Stags suffered big graduation hits after last year, but still return one of the nation’s best players in 6-8 Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is one of the top junior recruits in the country, and muscular 6-7 Josh Early, who also is receiving D-I offers. Earl had 16 points in the season opener and Early 10, while guard Ezikiel Lopes, who burned the Bullpups in last year’s game at the Roundhouse, is also back.
Five key players are missing from last year’s title team, though, including 6-6 Francesco Baddochi (now at Virginia) and tough-as-nails guards Semaj Ray and Landry Weber. Joseph Gleason and Joe Pedrotti, a pair of 6-5 reserves, also graduated last May.
Miege was just 2 of 11 from 3-point in its opener, but 30 of 47 inside the arc. It also committed just 10 turnovers.
MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon knows this will be the challenge of all challenges, trying to beat Miege on the road.
“We are very familiar with Miege and their personnel, so there should not be any surprises,” said Kinnamon, whose team was blown out by the Stags at the Roundhouse before playing them close at Salina in the state finals. “It will be a real challenge to go on the road and play in an environment that we have never experienced before. I thought we showed a lot of toughness and fight against Derby and that will only help us down the road especially against Miege. Robinson-Earl is one of the premier players in his class, so obviously we will have to do a great job of just making him work for his points and not give up easy putbacks. Lopes came into the Roundhouse and made a bunch of 3s, so obviously he is a shooter.”
Rebounding could be the determining factor, not to mention staying out of foul trouble. The Bullpups handled the ball well against Derby, but did have to weather first-half fouls to key players.