McPherson High’s girls used to be Topeka’s favorite daughters, but that honor now goes to Salina.
The Bullpups, who used to make annual trips to Topeka's Expocentre for the Class 5A State Tournament, now call Salina's Bicentennial Center their home away from home.
The Bullpups made it 3-for-3 in journeys to the 4A State Tournament here Saturday night with a 47-36 Division I sub-state grinder over arch-rival Buhler before easily the best Roundhouse crowd of the year.
MHS, which was 2-4 after a half-dozen games and struggling to find its identity, caught fire with 15 wins in the last 16 games as it takes a 17-5 record to state, where it will play on Wednesday. Pairings will be announced Sunday morning. The Bullpups won the 4A title in 2012 and took second last year. 4A is now divided into two divisions.
"After graduating two girls that played a ton for us for many years, Hailey (Ruder) and Katelyn (Loecker), and (Taylor) Scheidegger did too as she helped us a little bit, for us to have very much a new team and some kids who just really knew their roles, you know I'm really proud of everybody," said MHS coach Chris Strathman, who has coached the Bullpups to a pair of state championships, the other in 2008. "The seniors have really stepped up and been good leaders throughout the season. You know there's growing up right before our eyes. I'm just real proud of them."
The Bullpups followed the formula that has made them so successful in their last half-dozen games — lights-out foul shooting and stringent defense.
MHS was 26 of 35 at the line and put the game away in the last minute by knocking down 7 of 8.
"When we have the lead, we're going to get the ball in the hands of those two people (Abby Pedersen and Hannah Willems, a combined 16 of 18)," Strathman said. "I like our chances of holding on to the lead."
Buhler, a quality team but 0-3 against MHS this year, played the Bullpups even in the first quarter, but MHS started to grab control of the game in the second quarter to go up 23-17 at the half and never allowed the Crusaders ever get it to a one-possession game.
Janae Barnes turned in a monster game for the Bullpups with 10 points and a dominating 17 rebounds.
"She was excellent," Strathman said. "She was just so active. She had to go get some rebounds that weren't necessarily in her area. She just went after the basketball."
Pedersen, making 10 of 12 free throws, scored 14 points to lead MHS, while Ashtyn Schieferecke added 10 important points.
Buhler star Jessica Steffen did all she could to keep her team in it with 15 points, but Madison Hoffman and Brooke Bate never allowed her to get off a 3-pointer. Hoffman played 24 important minutes after Bate got in foul trouble and Steffen had to work for everything she got.
Other 4A qualifiers Saturday night included defending champion and undefeated Wamego, Kansas City Piper, Miege, Coffeyville, Paola, Andover Central and Mulvane. Miege or Piper are the best bets for MHS' first-round opponent.
MHS (47) — Wedel 0-1, 0-0, 0; Bate 0-0, 0-0, 0; Schmidt 0-0, 0-0, 0; Willems 1-9, 6-6, 8; Hoffman 2-3, 1-3, 5; Pedersen 2-9, 10-12, 14; Schieferecke 2-5, 6-8, 10; Ulsaker 0-0, 0-0, 0; Barnes 3-9, 3-6, 10; Yowell 0-0, 0-0, 0; Collins 0-0, 0-0, 0; Cooks 0-0, 0-0. Totals — 10-36, 26-35, 47. 3-pointers — Barnes 1.
Buhler (36) — Steffen 4-6, 7-10, 15; Dick 0-1, 0-0, 0; Balding 1-1, 0-0, 2; Domsch 0-1, 0-0, 0; Keller 1-7, 4-8, 7; Torgerson 1-7, 0-0, 2; Burns 4-8, 2-2, 10. Totals — 11-34, 13-20, 36. 3-pointers — Keller 1.