MHS boys begin drive for another state title Thursday

By Steve Sell
March 04, 2015
Kendall Shaw

The McPherson High boys want to finish what they’ve started.

The Bullpups buzzed through the regular season with a 20-0 record and extended their consecutive-game winning streak to a school-record 35.

But when they tee it up at 6 p.m. Thursday against Ulysses at Hays in the first round of the Class 4A Division I sub-state, they’ll be looking the Tigers right in the eye with same 0-0 record.

It doesn't matter that only a couple of teams have challenged the Bullpups —  Andale and Wichita Heights (a potential Class 5A champion). Or that MHS has averaged 71.5 points to the opponents' 46.5. MHS will be approaching this like every game could be its last.

The Bullpups take a No. 1 state ranking to Hays, which will house one of the tougher sub-states. The second semifinal game Thursday, pitting the host Indians against Buhler, will assure that a good team will be staying home from Salina.

Bullpup coach Kurt Kinnamon, who notched win No. 400 at MHS last Friday against Buhler, is taking nothing for granted against the 6-13 Tigers, who have a puncher’s chance as they live and die by the 3-pointer.

“Ulysses will shoot more 3-point shots than anyone we have played this year,” said Kinnamon, now 400-70 in his 20 years at MHS. “They drive and kick as their main offense. They put four guys on the floor at a time that can make a 3. We have to stop penetration to prevent kickouts for easy shots. They play at a very fast pace, which should lead to an entertaining and high-scoring game.”

Kinnamon believes the Bullpups are better suited to play teams that haven’t seen them before as the opposition can’t simulate the pressure MHS brings in practice. The Bullpups average a mind-boggling 11.5 steals a game and hold teams to 40-percent shooting from the field.

In this memorable season, the Bullpups have compiled numbers that should make other teams gulp. All five starters shoot better than 50 percent from the field and as a team MHS knocks it down at a 54-percent clip. It’s not an overly prolific 3-point shooting team (86 on the year), though Drew Pyle has shot 45 percent from beyond the arc and has more than half the 3’s with 44.

It’s also a team that blazes away from the foul line, shooting 73 percent. Pyle leads the way at 85.4 percent and Kyler Kinnamon shoots it a 81.4.

Pyle tops the team in scoring at 15.7, just ahead of the 15.1 of Payton Stephens. Kinnamon, a first-team All-State All-Class selection last year, is at 12.7, but impacts a game in so many other ways. He passes for 6.6 assists and comes up with 3.3 steals a game as he’s a defensive instigator.

This is a team that turns it over just 10 times a game and forces nearly 20. It's pesky in that it has compiled 216 deflections, yet the opponent has only 72.

As for the other semifinal game, Kinnamon won’t be surprised by the outcome no matter which team wins. He has seen Buhler up close and personal twice and notes the Crusaders have three solid players. Hays is led by 6-7 center Brady Werth, who played on a summer AAU team with Kinnamon and Stephens. Werth, like Kinnamon, has signed to play at Fort Hays State next year.

MHS is seeking its 44th trip to the state tournament since 1940, having won a title on 12 occasions. Kinnamon has coached five of those teams, Mike Henson guided four MHS teams to titles and the late Jay Frazier won back-to-back-to-back from 1972-74 for his three titles. The Bullpups also have been state runner-up on 10 occasions.