It would appear to be lined up perfectly this week for McPherson High’s boys to win their 12th state basketball championship, which would move them one step closer to second-place Newton (13) while Wyandotte is still the leader at 20.
The Bullpups clearly are the class of the field in Salina, as their 20-1 record and No. 1 Class 4A Division I state ranking would attest.
They open state play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against dangerous Kansas City Sumner in the first meeting between the teams since 2002 when they outlasted the Sabres 66-62 in the first round of the 5A tourney. MHS would go on to take second place that year, losing to Shawnee Heights in the championship game before returning in 2003 to win it all.
To be honest, I believe Sumner could very well be its toughest challenge this week. Don’t scoff at the 10-12 record. This is an athletic team that has played top-drawer competition and won’t even blink at the sight of the Bullpups’ glossy record.
Sumner is a young team that may be more of a collection of athletes than basketball players and certainly will play fast and loose with nothing to lose. From all indications, the Sabres don’t shoot it that well, but as soon as they miss they go right after it. Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon’s greatest fear is allowing Sumner to play volleyball on the backboards.
Rebounding, remember, is all about “want to.” That and blocking out expertly and making the opponent go over the back.
This is probably one of the most cerebral Bullpup teams I can remember. It knows how to play the game the “right way” as Kinnamon likes to say. He tells his players something once and it stays in the vault. MHS seldom turns the ball over and also creates a passel of turnovers on the defensive end.
A championship and that would move Kinnamon to the head of the MHS class. He has won four titles (as has Mike Henson), the last coming in 2011 behind the 1-2 punch of All-Staters Christian Ulsaker and Jack Pyle. Before then, though, the previous title was the beforementioned 2003 team, which included the Bruner brothers Aubrey and Kevin, Jordan Fithian, Tim Kliewer, Jamie Crist and Anthony Gross. Kinnamon rode that “iron man six” to the title, with the championship game the amazing 76-69 decision over Highland Park.
The Bullpups were easily the “team of the ‘90s.” They won 5A state championships in 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1999. The first four were under Henson, the last two under Kinnamon. MHS also took second in 1993 and 1995 as 3,000 Bullpup fans annually made the trek to Topeka as the Expocentre was “our house.”
My greatest hope is that form holds true. That would mean McPherson would meet Independence for the championship. My avid readers certainly know I’m a Bulldog alum and the way I look at it, I can’t lose — a team I really like will be a state champion.
Like MHS, the Bulldogs play a sleeper team in the first round as Topeka Hayden is 12-10, but plays a 5A and 6A schedule. Basehor, however, is a potential semifinal stumbling block.
This is the best week of the year for sports fans. Let the games begin.