McPherson High's girls exorcised their most fiercest demon of the Mid America Classic as for the first time in six tries Friday they defeated Olathe South 57-32, handing the Falcons their first loss after 16 straight Classic wins.
MHS, now 11-1, advances to the 7:15 p.m. championship game on Saturday to take on defending Class 6A state champion and 10-1 Manhattan in what should be a titanic matchup of teams ranked No. 2 in their respective classes.
"I couldn't be any more proud of the effort of our girls tonight," said MHS coach Chris Strathman, whose team is looking for its first Classic title since 2012, which was the forerunner to the state championship 6 weeks later. "We were sharp defensively, especially. We went through some dry spells on offense. Obviously we had a fantastic start, but the second half defensively was just awesome."
MHS had a perfect storm of a start. It made 8 of 10 shots — 5 of 7 from 3-point — to lead 22-8 at one point before the Bullpups got shaky with the ball, committing 9 turnovers as the Falcons managed to claw back within 28-20 by halftime.
After that hot start, MHS was just 2 of 8 in the second quarter, 0 of 2 from beyond the arc, but those empty possessions where it didn’t get off a shot kept it from pushing the lead to double digits.
The Bullpups then turned to their airtight defense in the third quarter as they gave up only 5 points and missed many chances to widen the lead with tepid free throw shooting, but it was still 39-25 going into the fourth quarter.
The Falcons simply didn't have the firepower of past South teams to make a spirited run and MHS is back in the finals as it's seeking its 11th Classic title.
All-time leading Bullpup scorer Taylor Robertson scored 9 points in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game, then didn't score another point until the 6:04 mark of the fourth quarter. When she did it set off a chain reaction as she scored 10 in 4 1/2 minutes to finish the game with 19.
A big difference was MHS' bench as the reservoir of talent ran deep as there was no falloff from the effective starting five. Emma Ruddle, Mandi Cooks, Maggie Leaf and Grace Pyle were all immense. For Cooks, she looked a little more comfortable in her second game with 6 points and 2 rebounds. Ruddle and Riley Hett locked down on Falcon standout Dani Winslow, holding her to 1 of 11 from the field. Leaf had perhaps her best game with 7 points and, like everybody else, was tough on the defensive end. Pyle snagged 4 rebounds with her hustle.
Only Caroline Harshbarger could solve the defensive maze with 14 points to lead the Falcons, who had won titles in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
"Defensively, though, as far as individuals to single out, I'd say Riley Hett and Emma Ruddle," Strathman said. "They had the primary job of tag-teaming on Dani Winslow. She's their best player and initiates their offense. They were really locked it."
And don't be surprised if they combine again on Saturday as they could very well draw the assignment on Manhattan star and Kansas State signee Christianna Carr.
"They're very tough, obviously, offensively," Strathman said. "I know Carr got going (against Wichita Northwest). She hit some baskets late and I didn't want that to happen because now the lid's going to come off and she's got some confidence going. We'll have to be really locked in on her … she's the Division I and going to K-State, but the (Kia) Wilson girl inside and the (Morgan) Worthington girl, both 6-foot or 6-1, those two can really play. So they have a lot of weapons and it's not just Carr."
Manhattan's only championship came in 2014 when it defeated the Bullpups, 44-37.
MHS (57) — Hageman 2-6, 2-2, 7; Schieferecke 1-2, 2-2, 4; Hett 1-3, 0-0, 3; Robertson 5-11, 4-4, 19; C. Cooks 3-3, 1-2, 7; Ruddle 1-1, 1-2, 4; Pyle 0-2, 0-0, 0; Sweat 0-0, 0-0, 0; Burghart 0-0, 0-0, 0; Sweat 0-0, 0-0, 0; M. Cooks 2-3, 2-4, 6; Leaf 2-2, 3-4, 7; Eisenbarth 0-0, 0-0, 0. Totals — 17-33, 8-17, 57. 3-pointers — Robertson 5, Hageman 1, Ruddle 1, Hett 1.
Olathe South (32) — I. Pierce 1-2, 0-0, 2; Reed 0-3, 0-0, 0; Harshbarger 5-11, 2-2, 14; Winslow 1-11, 1-4, 3; Harder 1-1, 0-0, 2; Rhoades 2-4, 0-0, 4; A. Pierce 2-2, 0-0, 4; Halliday 1-5, 1-1, 3. Totals — 13-39, 4-7, 32. 3-pointers — Harshbarger 2.