Bullpups will have to run the gauntlet to win Invite

By Steve Sell
January 23, 2014

The 50th year of the McPherson Invitational deserved a special field.

That’s what we have this year, as from top to bottom I can’t recall a better group, not to mention all the schools are dripping with rich traditions that are known throughout the state.

There's certainly star power at the top, as McPherson High is playing like a team that could make a deep run in Class 4A Division I, while Shawnee Mission East certainly is 6A Final Four worthy. Derby has a dynamic duo in James Conley and Jeremy Dunham, while Lawrence Free State could be the sleeper, according to some coaches. Buhler has Roundhouse experience and coach Denny Wahlgren is no stranger to the surroundings. All five of those schools bring winning records to the party.

While some of the other records may not be eye-popping as normal, they are more than likely deceiving. After all, Blue Valley West is 3-4 despite having a tremendous 1-2 punch in Blaise Gammon and Ryan Ralston and it's coming off a 6A state runner-up finish. Wichita North, which is 4-5, just added 6-9 Gage Loy, so this might be the time for it to take off. Carroll, an uncharacteristic 3-6, is piloted by the colorful Lonnie Lollar, who used to delight Mike Rausch, Willie Johnson and the other front-row loyalists with his sideline demeanor.

Somebody has to finish first and somebody has to finish last. That’s just the way it is. So here goes:

1. McPherson — The Bullpups will have to knock off three straight 6A schools to claim their 21st title. I love the way this team plays, one of the best-passing teams in recent memory. If the Bullpups win it, they’ll definitely deserve it.

2. Shawnee Mission East — I went back and forth on this one. I can’t wait for the Lancers’ semifinal game on Friday with Blue Valley West. The Jaguars, though, must not be clicking if they have four losses in seven games. I’ll go with East in the semis, which will set up a rematch of last year’s title game.

3. Blue Valley West – You’d think with Blaise Gammon and Ryan Ralston, it would be able to strafe teams defensively, but the Jags have given up 60 points in four of their seven games. Still, too much pedigree to pick them any lower.

4. Lawrence Free State — Chuck Law is perhaps my favorite tournament coach because he loves coming here and enjoys the atmosphere like no other. He’s got a pretty dangerous team, especially if Khadre Lane is 100 percent. Fourth could be a little low.

5. Derby — This tells you how good this tournament is. Derby’s first-round game could send my tourney bracket into complete shambles.

6. Wichita North — Too bad Conner Frankamp ran out of eligibility. But this team still has some good players, including 6-9 transfer Gage Loy, who just became eligible recently.

7. Carroll — Don’t be surprised if the Golden Eagles find their way to 5A state despite a so-so record. Lots of potential on this team, as it has a lot of size.

8. Buhler — The Crusaders could get tired of the Roundhouse. By the time this tournament is over, they’ll be 0-4 here and there’s still sub-state to play.