When the favored McPherson High girls fell behind Gardner-Edgerton 8-2 here Thursday in the opening round of the Mid America Classic, the sound of squirm was reverberating through the sizable Roundhouse crowd that was itching to explode at the first sign of success.
Oh no, they thought, this couldn’t be happening again.
The sweat was pouring off the brows of the McPherson Optimist Club members who run the tournament. Their golden goose — their money in the bank — was laying an egg in the first quarter, missing 10 of its first 11 shots.
But once the Bullpups’ Janae Barnes made a not-called-bank 3-pointer right at the end of the first quarter to break 4-minute drought, the team was able to exhale for the first time.
The Bullpups eventually overcame their jitters and a spirited challenge by Class 6A Gardner-Edgerton for a hard-earned 52-46 victory to avoid the Sunshine Bracket and earn a spot in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. semifinals against Andale, a team they also will play on the road Tuesday.
“The kids had to battle tonight,” a relieved MHS coach Chris Strathman said. “Gardner really competed very well with their young kids. Their young kids have a lot of potential. Sometimes midseason tournaments are when those type of kids start to put it together and they kind of did tonight.”
After its clanking start, MHS started to get untracked and eventually went up 20-14 before the Trailblazers scored the final five points before the half to melt the lead to one.
“We were a little tight and maybe some of that had to do with what happened last week (when MHS’ boys were upset in the first round),” Strathman said. “I did mention before the game that we needed to take care of business, we want to be playing in the late game tomorrow night... and we were able to make that happen.”
It was time to get squeamish again in the third quarter, as a 7-0 G-E rush pushed it up as many as five, but the Bullpups answered with a rip of their own, closing out the quarter on a 14-2 streak to lead by seven, 38-31.
But Scott Schaefer’s youthful Blazers would not quit. Once their disadvantage reached nine, it was again pins and needles time as they charged back within 48-46. G-E’s Abby Bilhimer then launched a 3-pointer with about 30 seconds left that would have been a lead-changer, but it missed even though it was right on line, and Abby Pedersen and Barnes both hit a pair of free throws apiece to seal the deal.
The two returning senior starters put the MHS offense on their back, Pedersen scoring 25 points — including 10 of 11 at the line — and Barnes added 13.
But there were some unsung contributions. Madison Hoffman took advantage of extended playing time to play the role of defensive stopper, while Ashtyn Schieferecke, while not scoring, was uber-aggressive on the boards with 10 rebounds. Cassidy Wedel also came up with some key minutes off the bench.
Kelsey Leffert and Abby Buie led the balanced Blazers with nine points apiece.
MHS, which is now 7-4 after a 1-3 start to the season, got away with a 13-of-36 effort from the field, but did make a six-pack of 3-balls. It also had a 20-7 advantage in free throws made as they were aggressive in taking the ball to the basket.
The Bullpups handled it well, turning it over only 10 times, but only forced 15 — a testament to how well the Blazers played, despite a lineup that included two freshmen and two sophomores that maybe grew into sophomores and juniors with this performance.
Now comes Andale, a team MHS defeated for third place last year in what was a tremendously spirited game that wasn’t decided until late.
“(Point guard) Brittany Meyer is really good,” Strathman said. “She’s just an awfully skilled player, shoots over 90 percent from the line so you can’t put her there. She can shoot it from deep. The (Lauren) Rowland girl is just hyper-aggressive offensively. She just puts her head down and goes. She either gets to the basket usually or she draws contact. She’s just very aggressive. So those will be the two keys for us to stop.”