It may be cold outside, but things are going to be blistering hot inside Tuesday when McPherson High hosts Buhler in the renewal of their fiery basketball rivalry.
The girls tip off the action at 6 p.m. at the Roundhouse, with the boys to follow. KBBE coverage begins at 5:45 p.m. on 96.7 FM.
It’s not often the MHS girls are considered an underdog in their own house, but that’s the case Tuesday. The Bullpups are 1-3 and have not played in 18 days. The Crusaders are white-hot at 5-0 and dropped the hammer on Abilene 72-44 on Friday, a game the MHS coaching staff watched with admiration for the Crusaders.
“They really handed it to Abilene on Friday, which we did get a chance to see in person,” MHS coach Chris Strathman said. “Playing on Friday could be an advantage for them, but I think we have made good use of the extra days of practice over break. Our girls need to be ready to go and I think they will be after being off for 18 days since our last game.”
For the Crusaders, it all starts with sophomore point guard Jessica Steffen. She’ll be playing with extra motivation since last year the Bullpups’ Hailey Ruder shut her down to practically nil. Steffen poured in 23 points in the win over Abilene and she can control a game with her quickness and ballhandling.
“Jessica Steffen really makes them go and it looks like she is greatly improved from last year when she was already pretty darn good as a freshman,” Strathman said.
Taryn Torgerson can light it up from 3-point, making three on Friday as part of her 16-point contribution. Alex Keller is another experienced player and furnished 10 points.
“Buhler is playing with a ton of confidence right now,” Strathman said.
The Bullpups have been off since playing Dec. 20 in the Hy-Vee Shootout in Kansas City when they were edged by St. Teresa’s Academy in overtime. The game has been replayed several times on Cox Cable 22, so the Bullpups had a chance to watch what they need to do to improve on.
Two keys will be to find some scoring help for Abby Pedersen and for Janae Barnes to stay out of foul trouble. When she’s on the bench, the Bullpups are a vastly different team as they miss her athleticism and intensity.
In the boys’ game, the Bullpups will have to overcome even more of a layoff. They have not played since Dec. 16, as their game in the Hy-Vee Shootout was cancelled because of weather conditions.
During the layoff, the Bullpups also have been without coach Kurt Kinnamon for part of that time as he was in the hospital with illness for parts of four days. He was released Sunday and vows to be on the sideline Tuesday.
MHS takes a 3-0 record into the game, probably the least number of games the Bullpups have played before Christmas in recent memory. They’ll equal that number this week since they also host Hutchinson on Thursday and travel Friday to Winfield.
Buhler comes in 3-2, as some of the air went out of its balloon on Friday with a 62-50 loss to Abilene. Before then, the Crusaders had scored impressive victories over El Dorado and Winfield, teams that have been ranked in Class 4A Division I this season.
Kinnamon said a key would be to contain super sophomore Jace Williams. He is outrageously athletic and can go for 20 on any given night. Keeping him off the boards is another concern. Quentin Henricks, Shawn Davis and Noah Webster have emerged as nice complementary players, with Davis scoring 18 against Abilene.
The Bullpups will be playing their first game without athletic sixth man Keshawn Sewell, who suffered a broken leg in practice during the holidays and probably will miss the rest of the season.
Both games Tuesday are huge in terms of the AVCTL Division III race. MHS’ teams are both 1-0 with wins at the Roundhouse over Mulvane.