HAYS — All McPherson High boys coach Kurt Kinnamon could do was exhale.
His team had once again qualified for state with a 57-46 victory over host Hays on Saturday, assuring that it would have the opportunity to defend its Class 4A Division I state title at Salina’s Bicentennial Center.
Instead of being celebratory, though, all he could feel was a sense of relief.
“It’s strange when you’re coaching at McPherson High School and this is kind of our expectation,” said Kinnamon, who is now 402-70 in his 20 years. “I feel bad. I ought to be feeling a sense of elation, of joy and all I feel is relief.”
This probably didn’t rank among the best performances by the Bullpups, who had to resort to a spread offense over the final 10 minutes to preserve the victory.
“I was surprised they didn’t come out of the zone, honestly,” said Kinnamon, whose 22-0 team will play No. 8 seed Chanute at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Bicentennial Center. “The lead was 13 or whatever and I decided we might as well run some clock. So I told them after I called that one timeout that you need to run at least 2 minutes off the clock here before you score and they did a really good job of that.”
MHS led 32-19 at the half and the outcome was never seriously in any jeopardy as Hays was content to sit in its zone defensively and fire away from 3-point at the other end.
A key to the game was the play of Payton Stephens, who scored 15 points and was able to get Hays’ all-time leading scorer Brady Werth in foul trouble as that forced the 6-7 center to play tentative much of the night. He scored 10 in his final career game, but took only three shots.
It also was Stephens who kick-started the offense early, scoring eight points in the first period and showed no signs of his sore knee that has limited him somewhat.
Drew Pyle, despite not being 100 percent because of a sinus infection, shook off a slow start to score 17 and Kyler Kinnamon added 12 while creating his usual havoc on defense.
Isaiah Nunnery led Hays with 16.
The Bullpups were 8 of 11 from the field in the cautious second half to finish the game 19 of 38. They actually missed 14 of their first 19 shots before righting the ship.
As usual, though, their defense was stifling. Hays took only 29 shots because it was constantly turning it over. It made nine 3-pointers, but only six 2s.
Should MHS win its opener, it will have a titanic matchup in the semis. It would play either Andale or Miege on Friday in the late game. Andale gave MHS its closest game of the year (57-55) while Miege was ranked No. 1 in the state during the first half of the season before suffering four losses.
MHS (57) — McDaniel 1-1, 1-1, 3; D. Pyle 5-9, 6-6, 17; B. Pyle 0-1, 0-0, 0; Kinnamon 3-10, 6-9, 12; Stephens 6-8, 3-4, 15; Wine 1-1, 0-0, 2; Nutter 3-7, 1-1, 8; Gabel 0-1, 0-0, 0. Totals — 19-38, 17-21, 57. 3-pointers — D. Pyle 1, Nutter 1.
Hays (46) — Romme 0-1, 0-0, 0; I. Nunnary 5-8, 3-4, 16; Young 1-2, 0-0, 2; Winter 1-3, 0-0, 3; Dryden 3-5, 0-0, 9; Werth 3-3, 3-5, 10; Hobson 1-4, 0-0, 2; Berens 1-3, 1-1, 4. Totals — 15-29, 7-10, 46. 3-pointers — I. Nunnary 3, Dryden 3, Werth 1, Winter 1, Berens 1.