SALINA — It was just a matter of time.
As the final seconds were ticking down in McPherson High’s dominating 57-40 victory over Topeka Hayden Saturday night in the Class 4A Division I state championship game at the Bicentennial Center, Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon started choking back the tears.
The tears weren’t for himself. After all, Kinnamon had been there before as an All-State player on the undefeated 1982 St. John Tigers and four times in his previous 18 years as MHS coach.
No, the tears were for his players. He wanted so badly for this team to experience the thrill of a state championship that when the clock hit zeroes, the water works began.
“No it (winning the state title) doesn’t,” Kinnamon said when asked if it ever gets old. “This one, because of the quality of individuals these guys are, you just wanted it badly for them. It makes me emotional. Good things happen to good kids. That’s what happened tonight.”
It was the 12th state title for the MHS boys, who last won in 2011 in Topeka. Combined with the eight titles won by the girls, the Bullpup basketball program is now a 20-time state champion, which goes greatly toward the soon-to-be 52nd championship banner in the Roundhouse rafters.
With his fifth championship, Kinnamon broke a tie with Mike Henson, who won four titles in the 1990s. Kinnamon also won a pair of titles in the ‘90s when the Bullpups were the team of the decade.
MHS finished 23-1, the only blemish a loss to Wichita North in the opening round of the McPherson Invitational, a game the Redskins socked the Bullpups with a 24-point first quarter as they lived an out-of-body experience.
Making the night even more important for Kinnamon was that his brother Clint’s team, St. John, also won a state title as the Tigers are the 2A champions.
After MHS led only 9-7 after a quarter, the game basically was decided in a 3:15 stretch in the second quarter when Bullpup sophomore Drew Pyle — who had struggled the first two games of the tournament — drained three straight 3-pointers to go along with a deuce for a personal 11-point run. A suddenly tight game was double digits by halftime, 25-14. Hayden scored the first three points of the second half, but Kyler Kinnamon answered with a trey and only once more did the margin ever get under double digits the rest of the way.
Pyle finished with 21 points, going 8 of 11 from the field and 4 of 6 from beyond the arc. Kinnamon scored 10, while dishing for six assists and coming up with five steals.
Kinnamon said Pyle’s lights-out stretch was the definite turning point.
“That was a huge stretch in the game,” he said. “He had struggled, but we knew it was in there. We had seen it during the year. For him to make those, it was huge in us making a run. We have good shooters and we put the time in to be good shooters.”
The Bullpups were a phenomenal 11 of 14 from the field in the second half as they beat the patient Wildcats at their own game. They finished at 57 percent — 20 of 35 — to offset an uncharacteristic night (12 of 22) from the foul line.
The other storyline of the night was the defense by the Horton twins. Peter gave away about 50 pounds to Hayden star Marcus Meier, holding him to 13 points (10 in the third quarter) after he had torched El Dorado for 32 the game before. Ryan guarded 29-point Thursday scorer Jacob Head and while he did lead the Wildcats with 16 points, he needed 16 shots to do it, going just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc. Hayden as a team was an anemic 13 of 34 from the field.
“I thought our defensive effort was just fantastic,” said Kinnamon, whose team morphed into a defensive dynamo even though it would prefer to get out and run. “It’s not easy to play that way. I thought our pressure was outstanding. I thought Pete did a fantastic job of just battling to get around Marcus Meier. And then we had such good helpside... we closed out on their shooters well. Just a fantastic defensive effort.”
Kinnamon enjoyed this season so much he really doesn’t want to see it end.
“What a quality win from a group of kids who bought in,” he said. “I’ve said it time and again, we don’t scare anybody when we walk in the building, but when we start getting after them it was just awesome."
The Bullpups will lose the Horton twins and emotional leader Keshawn Sewell, whose season ended in December with a broken leg. That means 10 of the top 12 players will be back next year.
And the Bullpups may be back to Salina, too.
MHS (57) — McDaniel 1-1, 0-0, 2; Reed 0-0, 0-0, 0; Loecker 0-0, 0-0, 0; Pyle 8-11, 1-2, 21; Kinnamon 3-7, 3-4, 10; R. Horton 4-9, 0-2, 8; P. Horton 1-3, 1-2, 3; Stiebens 0-0, 0-0, 0; Wine 1-1, 1-2, 3; Nutter 2-3, 2-4, 6; Gabel 0-0, 4-6, 4. Totals — 20-35, 12-22, 57. 3-pointers — Pyle 4, Kinnamon 1.
Hayden (40) — Head 6-16, 2-2, 16; McGreevy 1-3, 2-3, 4; Anderson 0-1, 4-4, 4; Hurtley 0-1, 0-3, 0; Heinen 1-6, 1-2, 3; Meier 5-7, 3-4, 13. Totals — 13-34, 12-18, 40. 3-pointers — Head 2.