What a night Friday at the Roundhouse

By Steve Sell
February 26, 2015

Pick a storyline, any storyline.

They’re all tremendous.

Friday night could be one of the most memorable nights in recent Roundhouse regular-season history when Buhler comes to town for what will be an emotional night of basketball.

The plots and subplots are delectable. Let us count the ways:

1. Buhler, the opponent, is now McPherson High’s most intense rival since Hutchinson, Newton and the Salina teams have fallen by the wayside. The Crusaders will bring a huge crowd for what should be a standing-room-only Roundhouse. McPherson certainly wants to win the battle of fan support.

2. It’s Senior Night. MHS will be honoring its six seniors, three players for the girls and three for the boys. Cassidy Wedel, Madison Hoffman and Bri Cooks are the senior girls, with Kyler Kinnamon, Nathan Nutter and Payton Stephens the senior boys. It’s the last time MHS fans will see these players in the Roundhouse.

3. The girls’ game will determine the AVCTL Division III title. Buhler is 9-0 and MHS is 8-1. A Bullpup win and they share the title.

4. If MHS’ girls win, it would force a flip for the No. 1 sub-state seed for next week’s tournament at Hays since the teams would have the same records.

5. The MHS boys will be trying to complete a perfect 20-0 regular season.

6. The Bullpups will be trying to complete a 10-0 run through AVCTL Division III, which they already have clinched.

7. MHS can break the school record for consecutive wins. With the victory over Augusta on Tuesday, the Bullpups have won 34 in a row over a two-year span, equaling the mark of the 2003-04 seasons.

8. With a win, McPherson High coach Kurt Kinnamon would have 400 as Bullpup coach, as opposed to just 70 losses.

Wow, it doesn’t get any better than that.

The 6 p.m. girls’ game sets the table. Buhler (16-3) outlasted the Bullpups (15-4) 47-42 in the first meeting, but that was before MHS freshman Mandi Cooks emerged with a string of double-digit performances. She is now playing huge minutes after being a spot player the first half of the season.

Also in that game, the Bullpups’ other talented freshman, Taylor Robertson, was held to her worst shooting night by Buhler senior Alex Keller, as she was just 3 of 13. She has been shooting it well since then, highlighted by a school-record 41 points against Rose Hill.

“As far as the league, it’s going to take us beating them on our floor to share,” MHS coach Chris Strathman said. “I’ve never wanted to share anything so badly with Buhler in my life. Hopefully we can get it done.”

Buhler is led by All-State guard Jessica Steffen, who until her outstanding performance in the first meeting had been held in check throughout her career by MHS.

It all comes down to controlling Steffen, who figures to get her points. Keeping her from going off, though, is the key.

“We have to stay out of foul trouble. They score the ball so well from the foul line,” said Strathman, who said how the game is called could play a big role in the outcome. “When they get to the line, they win. We’ve got to keep her (Steffen) off the foul line. Our ball screen defense wasn’t very good last time and she exploited that.”

Kelly Burns was the unsung player last time, scoring 14 points in the paint. But with Mandi Cooks getting more time and with her length, that could bother her.

An “X” factor is Keller. She didn’t score in the first meeting as she concentrated on stopping Robertson, but she has been a Bullpup killer in the past. 

“I really, really doubt we’ll hold Alex Keller to zero like we did last time,” Strathman said. “She’s too good of a player.”

The Buhler boys come in off a high, having pounded Winfield 67-47 on Tuesday. They are led by athletic big man Jace Williams, who is a dunking machine. Shawn Davis and Noah Webster are other quality players, but the Crusaders have struggled in the past against the Bullpups’ pressure defense.

And with a capacity crowd expected to provided the juice, the 19-0 Bullpups figure to emotionally high, which could be bad news for the Crusaders.

“We don’t have to say much to the kids to get them ready for this game,” Kinnamon said. “I just hope we don’t have guys in foul trouble as quickly as we did last time we played them.”

The Bullpups certainly will be ready for anything, as wily veteran Buhler coach Denny Wahlgren has had some success against them in the past, mostly from his time at Salina South.