"Tree sap" defense sparking MHS boys

By Steve Sell
January 07, 2015

McPherson High’s boys basketball team is too good this season not to have had a mantra.

But Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon said Tuesday after the Winfield game — a 96-50 blowout — that it does now.

“A guy wrote an article and he kind of compared us to tree sap, when you get it on your hands it just won’t come off,” Kinnamon said. “I feel like that’s kind of how we defended tonight.  How many games have you ever seen where you’ve had four 5-counts on the sidelines on the inbounds, at least that? That’s an effort play and plays like that really make me proud.”

The Bullpups’ sticky “tree sap” defense is only part of the reason they have raced to a 6-0 record and No. 2 state ranking in Class 4A Division I. 

This is one of the most skilled offensive teams the Bullpups have ever fielded. They are shooting a phenomenal percentage (better than 55 from the field, 38 from 3-point and 76 at the foul line) and turn the ball over only about 10 times a game. When you put it all together, it adds up to a juggernaut.

While this particular team hasn’t yet won a state title or even the McPherson Invitational, it is playing a brand of basketball that evokes memories of the Bullpup powerhouse teams of yesteryear. I still believe the 1991 MHS team is the gold standard, though many will argue for the 1990 or 1994 teams, both of which were undefeated. And for old-timers, this team has many of the same characteristics of the 1974 team, which was the third championship team of a three-year MHS title run.

As good as the Bullpups were last year during their 12th state championship season, this team is better. Granted, losing the intangibles the Horton twins Ryan and Peter brought to the table were difficult to replace. But the gains made in strength and maturity of the rest of the players on that 2014 title team that are back are too many to ignore. 

Drew Pyle, who had a breakout performance in the 2014 state title game against Topeka Hayden, is light-years ahead of where he was last year. All-State All-Class point guard Kyler Kinnamon is playing with such command, while Nathan Nutter, Avery Gabel and the returning Spenser Wine are far more advanced. Throw in the addition of Payton Stephens, a physical powerhouse, and you have six tremendous players. Add in freshman Ben Pyle, Marcus McDaniel and rapidly improving Jacob Loecker, along with Mason Alexander, Kyle Smith, Kolby Reed and Caleb Spaich, and you have a reservoir of depth.

In fact, the Bullpups’ current second team would more than hold its own. You think there are other teams in AVCTL Division III that could find a place for MHS’ reserves in their starting lineup?

The Bullpups, who should have no problem here Friday against Augusta, should face a spirited challenge on Tuesday when they go to Buhler, but only because it’s a rivalry game and the Crusaders certainly will play with emotion early on. Throw in the wily Denny Wahlgren on the bench and Buhler might be able to stay competitive. 

But it’s the McPherson Invitational where the Bullpups can prove their worth. MHS AD Shane Backhus has assembled a star-studded field as going into Tuesday’s games the top five teams were 20-3. This is the kind of competition the Bullpups need as it’s a 6A-dominated event and some of these schools should be able to at least match up in terms of physicality.

For an old dog like me, who has covered high school basketball for 40 years, it takes a lot to get me excited. But I can’t wait until the next time the Bullpups play. It’s been 24 years since a team has me this revved up. Friday’s game with Augusta can’t get here fast enough.