For McPherson High’s two seniors Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks, they can now check off another box on their bucket list.
After three disappointing and frustrating years competing in the Mid America Classic without being able to hoist the treasured trophy, they combined for 38 points on Saturday to lead the Bullpups to a 61-52 championship game decision over Manhattan, the defending Class 6A champion and like the Bullpups ranked No. 2 in its class.
It was the Bullpups' 11th Classic title, but first since 2012 — and that year wound up topped by a Class 4A state championship.
"I'm just very, very proud of our girls tonight," MHS coach Chris Strathman said. "I thought our focus was very good again. Manhattan is obviously a great, great team with a lot of weapons. The job we did on their two big girls (Kia Wilson and Megan Worthington) was just awesome. Wilson is playing with a broken hand, I don't think many people realized that, but she's still awfully effective… Worthington we held to zero and that was a huge key for us. We singled her out (defensively) as a big key to this game because she had hit so many key shots in this tournament."
Appropriately, Robertson made 6 of 6 free throws in final 1:02 and Cooks added a couple for good measure as Manhattan had made the big crowd nervous by chopping down an 18-point lead to 6.
Robertson finished the game 12 of 13 at the foul line, as her lone miss was just her second of the year as apparently she’s allowed to miss one a month. She scored 23 points, while Cooks was 6 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from the line for 15 points in 16 minutes on the floor. Both had 11 points in the first half, with Cooks scoring 9 of hers during the decisive second quarter as she looked like the Cooks of old.
"Mandi was unbelievable tonight, she's been going some live practice obviously for quite a while, but to play 7 minutes Thursday, 9 minutes Friday, she's barely getting her feet wet… she's just a presence, she made a huge difference for us tonight and obviously she will for the rest of the season."
And, of course, for Robertson — who carries so much pressure with aplomb — Strathman knew how special it was.
"I just locked in on her and watched her as the clock rolled down and I just enjoyed — it brought tears to my eyes —watching her celebrate," he said.
Another key was the ballhandling of Lakyn Schieferecke, who was nearly flawless against Manhattan’s pressure defense and she also contributed 6 points. "She had a couple of big, big shots for us," Strathman said. "Off the bounce, mid-range, Laykn is really, really good. Lakyn has a good balance to her game."
The Bullpups found themselves down 14-10 after a quarter, but then Manhattan star Christianna Carr picked up back-to-back fouls in just a matter of moments to send her to the bench with three at the 4:50 mark of the half. MHS took advantage by going from down 15-13 to going up 30-22 at the half.
The Bullpups then blitzed the Indians with a 12-2 rip to start the second half and they needed all of their 18-point lead as Manhattan valiantly made a spirited run that came up short.
Taylor Johnson was sensational off the bench for Manhattan with 16 points, including 3 of 5 from 3-point. Carr tallied 14, though she was just 4 of 12 from the field.
"Holding Carr to 4 of 12 from the floor, that was good defense by Riley (Hett) and Emma (Ruddle) primarily," Strathman said.
Last year Manhattan lost in the Classic finals to Olathe South, but then went the rest of the year undefeated, capped off by the 6A state title. Maybe losing could be a good omen for the Indians as they certainly have all the ingredients to repeat.
For the Bullpups, now 12-1, they have the entire week off before returning with three games the following week, starting with a girls-only road game on Monday at Newton.
McPherson (61) — Hageman 0-2, 0-0, 0; Schieferecke 3-6, 0-0, 6; Hett 2-5, 0-0, 5; Robertson 4-11, 12-13, 23; C. Cooks 1-4, 3-3, 5; Ruddle 1-6, 1-2, 3; Pyle 0-2, 0-0, 0; Sweat 0-0, 0-0, 0; M. Cooks 6-6, 3-4, 15; Leaf 2-2, 0-0, 4. Totals — 19-45, 19-22, 61. 3-pointers — Robertson 3, Hett 1.
Manhatttan (52) — Williams 3-7, 0-0, 7; Harper 2-4, 1-1, 5; Wilson 2-5, 1-4, 5; Worthington 0-5, 0-0, 0; Carr 4-12, 3-4, 14; Ostermann 0-0, 2-2, 2; Johnson 5-10, 3-4, 16; Hilgers 0-0, 3-4, 3. Totals —16-43, 13-19, 52. 3-pointers — Carr 3, Johnson 3, Williams 1.