The Circle girls have a chance to make a state-wide statement Friday night.
The No. 4-ranked T-Birds can legitimize their lofty status when they host No. 2-ranked McPherson High in a clash of Class 4A Division I basketball powers.
The throwdown takes place at 6 p.m. in Towanda, with the boys to follow. Those who are unable to make it can follow the action on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bullpups Jim Joyner on the call.
Both teams made the state tournament last year, with the Bullpups of course finishing as the runner-up to Bishop Miege. Circle won its first game before losing to Miege in the semis and then to Kansas City Piper in the third-place game.
Circle has built on that success, having winged away to a 6-0 start. However, the T-Birds have cobbled their record against less-than-stellar competition, with league wins over Augusta, El Dorado and Buhler, while their non-conference wins came against Mulvane, Wichita Independent and Life Prep.
MHS coach Chris Strathman notes the T-Birds have a lot of talent, including a 6-2 transfer in Alyson Potter, who averages 11 points a game, second on the team to All-State guard candidate Carissa Beck, who is a 3-point sniper and averages 14.
“Circle played well at the state tournament last year as well and is a team with a lot of confidence,” said Strathman, whose 6-1 team will be playing its fourth ranked opponent this season following Derby, Miege and Abilene. “They run a lot of stuff and it will be important for us to be extremely alert on the defensive end. Circle is definitely our biggest challenge for league this year, so this is a very important game for us.”
Circle poses problems from the standpoint it will have much more size than the Bullpups, whose tallest starter is 5-10 guard Taylor Robertson. The T-Birds counter with three players 6-0 or better, though it’s Beck who commands the most scrutiny.
“They have some talented players, one excellent shooter as Beck is one of the best 3-point shooters we will see, a very good 6-2 transfer from Neodesha (Potter) that is more of a wing player, and then a couple of other 6-footers that play inside. You can't sleep on their other guards either, as I really like how they compete and both received some league honors after last season.”
The Bullpups are also 3-0 in league play as they have knocked off El Dorado, Winfield and Buhler. MHS has Augusta at home on Tuesday to complete the first round of league play.
Going back to the Andover game, the Bullpups have not shot the ball well the last two games, going 18 of 59 against the Trojans and followed that up by going 22 of 61 against Buhler.
The boys’ game will be the undercard as the Bullpups will be a prohibitive favorite, though they’ll never take the T-Birds for granted — thanks to Circle’s 45-44 victory over MHS in 2013 right after the Bullpups had won the McPherson Invitational and the T-Birds were 1-11.
Circle’s fortunes haven’t changed much since that season. The T-Birds are 2-4, but one of the wins was against Wichita Independent.
“They play a variety of defenses and try to confuse teams with their looks,” MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon said. “We know their JV beat us last year and a lot of those kids have moved up. We put a lot of energy into Buhler and we have to be ready to go on the road.”
The Bullpups were pushed hard by Buhler for a half before the MHS defense took over in the third quarter, giving up just a single free throw. Ben Pyle scored 2o of his 22 points in the first half and also yanked down 12 rebounds for a double-double. The MHS bench came up huge as several players made key contributions.
The Bullpup boys could possibly be facing two undefeated teams next week as Augusta and Andale currently are undefeated.