This was as blue as blue collar could get.
McPherson High’s girls rolled up their sleeves and put their noses to the grindstone in what turned into a backyard bareknuckler with Andale Friday night in the semifinals of the 19th annual Mid America Classic.
Scoring points was like pulling teeth as these two Class 4A teams clamped down defensively before the Bullpups extracted a 45-34 decision that no doubt left both teams black and blue, as the floor often was littered with bodies as loose ball scrambles were the norm.
By surviving this slugfest, the Bullpups advanced to Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. finals against once-beaten, Class 6A Manhattan, which looked close to invincible Friday, though it’s the kind of challenge Chris Strathman’s team has never backed down from.
“To hold a team like Andale to 34 points, we did play very good defense,” said Strathman, who hopes his team got into the ice tub after the game to ease the aches and pains from this slam-bang contest.
The key was the Bullpups’ stifling of Andale star Brittany Meyer, who was harassed into a 3-of-12 shooting performance and scored only 10 points, which was a team high.
“Brooke (Bate) and Madison (Hoffman) have kind of been our main defensive stoppers on the opponents’ good guards,” Strathman said. “They did a great job on Brittany Meyer. They forced her into some shots I don’t think she likes to take, some deep ones that were a little forced.”
Meyer, in fact, was stepping out to 28 feet and clearly was frustrated by the end of the night, as one of her shots came up about 3 feet short.
The other big story was the play of senior guard Hannah Willems, who stepped up with 17 points on a night that Andale did everything it could to shut down Abby Pedersen (nine points, 2 of 9 from the field) and Janae Barnes (five points, 2 of 10 from the field). Willems was 3 of 5 from beyond the arc and also made 6 of 8 foul shots, most of them coming late, to secure the win.
“The key was we took Meyer away the best we could and they took Abby away the best they could,” Strathman said. “Fortunately for us, Hannah stepped up big time, more so than their other players did — if that makes sense.”
It was another troubling start for the Bullpups, who were down 8-3 early before finally starting to figure out the aggressive Andale defense. By half, they had worked their way back to an 18-15 lead and then pushed it out to 28-21 by the end of the third quarter.
The margin ballooned to as many as 12 before Andale’s relentless pressure caused the Bullpups some shaky moments, but it was all good at the end.
Another huge effort was turned in by Ally Ulsaker, who came off the bench for eight points and four rebounds, a game that should prove to her once and for all she belongs at this level. She displayed a feathery touch both from the field and the line.
“Ally is a good shooter. She’s going to be looking at the basket from now on,” Strathman said. “It (her confidence) is building and those are shots she needs to take.”
The Bullpups did turn it over 21 times and shot only 13 of 34, but did make 15 of 20 free throws and dominated the backboards 33-21, with Ashtyn Schieferecke yanking down eight rebounds, giving her 18 in two games.
When Andale looks back at this game, a 12-of-26 performance from the foul line will cause it to shake its head. Fortunately, it gets another chance at the Bullpups on Tuesday as the teams meet in a nonleague game on the Indians’ home floor.
Strathman knows the Bullpups face a big challenge with Manhattan, which features powerful Darby Price, who is one of his favorite players because of how hard she plays and what a fierce competitor she is.
“She is a great kid to watch,” Strathman said. “As far as posting up and anything in her area, offensive boards or whatever, she’s going to get it. She has awesome hands, she has a physical body. She’s going to be a tough matchup for us. But outside of that, we’ll match up well with Manhattan. But the inside game is where we’re going to have to focus.”
MHS is seeking its 11th Classic title, while Manhattan has never won. Andale will play Shawnee Mission South for third at 5:30 p.m.