It will be champion against champion here Friday night when the headline girls basketball game in Kansas will be contested at the Roundhouse as defending Class 4A Division I state champion McPherson — now in Class 5A — hosts defending Class 6A champion Derby.
The Bullpups come into the game having won 23 in a row dating back to last year, while the Panthers have a skein of 24.
Game time is 6:00, with a big-time boys game to follow. Follow all the action on 96.7 KBBE with “Voice of the Bullpups” Jim Joyner on the call. Pre-game starts at 5:40.
With nearly their entire team back from last year, the Panthers are regarded by many as the best team in the state regardless of class.
Four-year starters 6-6 Kennedy Brown and guard Tor’e Alford are headed to NCAA Division I schools Oregon State and Missouri State, respectively, and have accomplished a lot in their careers, the pinnacle being last year with the 6A title.
But something they have never done is lead Derby to a win over the Bullpups.
MHS won last year’s game 54-49 despite 16 points and 17 rebounds by Brown. Two years ago in Derby, the Bullpups came away with a 49-36 victory as MHS limited Brown to 13 points.
The Panthers certainly started this season playing like the best team in Kansas by overwhelming Arkansas City 81-13 as Brown scored 26 points, while Jaidyn Schomp and Sydney Nilles added 12 apiece. Derby scored the first 20 points of the game and didn’t allow Arkansas City a basket for the first 10 minutes.
So it's going to be quite a test for the Bullpups.
"The keys are to play with confidence, and great effort and energy," MHS interim coach Mike Reith said. "We have to execute the game plan on both ends of the floor. We have to embrace the challenge of playing a great team like Derby."
The Bullpups swept the city of Andover to open the season, knocking off Andover 55-44 and then defeating Andover Central 49-27 as they’re still looking to find the mark from 3-point. A deadly shooting team from beyond the arc last year, the Bullpups are just 12 of 55 so far, but Reith knows that won’t continue because the team has too many good shooters.
"Offensively, we have gotten good looks on the perimeter, they just haven't fallen consistently yet," he said. "We have several great shooters and we know that will happen soon if we continue to execute as we should."
Reith is looking forward to an electric night inside the grand old building as very rarely do two defending state champions square off.
"I believe it will be a special atmosphere Friday night," he said. "It's not often that two defending state champs meet up in the regular season, so the Roundhouse should be rocking. A game like this will most certainly show us where we are as a team, and, regardless of the outcome, we will learn and grow from it."
Nobody probably would have imagined that one of Friday’s teams is going to win for the first time as the Bullpups have opened 0-2 for the first time in 42 years, while Derby lost 66-57 in its opener on Tuesday to Ark City as the Bulldogs finished the game on a stunning 25-3 run after the Panthers led by 13 points with 6 minutes to play.
Josh Osborn, a 7-foot transfer, led the Panthers with 17 points and Grant Adler scored 14. Osborn was a former Derby student who moved to Arkansas, but has moved back for his senior year.
The Panthers' loss to Ark City didn’t surprise MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon.
“They were at a huge disadvantage against Ark City that had a game already,” he said. “From the looks of the box score, Derby most likely ran out of gas due to having very few practices.”
The Derby football team won the Class 6A title and many of the players missed the first 2 weeks of practice.
The addition of 84 inches of Osborn certainly makes the Bullpups’ task more difficult.
“Anytime you face a 7-footer it is a problem that we are not used to,” Kinnamon said. “We will have to have great pressure on the ball to prevent easy post passes.”
The Bullpups have been in position to win both of their games. They forced overtime in the opener against Andover, but couldn’t seal the deal. They had a 30-23 halftime lead over Andover Central on Tuesday, but the Jags turned up the defensive pressure and MHS’ offense hit a drought.
“We played with a lot of heart and spirit compared to the first game,” Kinnamon said of Tuesday's loss. “We have to see this continue. Derby will pressure all over the floor and try to turn us over. We need to do a great job of taking care of the ball and make them pay for pressure.”
The Bullpups lost probable All-Stater Jake Alexander to a sprained ankle just 2 minutes into Tuesday’s game, but Cody Stufflebean took over with 20 points and 9 rebounds. It is unsure of Alexander’s status for Friday, but the Bullpups will prepare as if he won’t play. Freshman Seth Madron stepped up with 8 points off the bench and figures to get the start if Alexander can't go.