Only the high school basketball teams that win state championships or take third place win their final game of the season.
The finality of a season being over is never easy, win or lose. It’s four grueling months of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. So much time is invested and while it seems like a marathon, it can be over in the time it takes to run a short sprint.
McPherson High’s girls experienced that feeling on Saturday. Their four-month season was decided in a matter of 6 seconds.
I can’t recall covering very many Bullpup losses, in any sport, more painful than Saturday’s 51-49 girls’ loss to Buhler. The way the game ended left an ache in the hearts of Bullpup players, coaches and fans that won’t subside any time soon.
Make no mistake, this Bullpup team was one of the eight best in Class 4A Division I this year. The Crusaders will certainly attest to that as the trilogy between the teams was much like Ali-Frazier. Buhler’s six-player rotation probably is glad it has until Thursday to recover as Saturday’s game was physically, mentally and emotionally taxing.
But until the inequities in the sub-state system are changed, we’ll continue to get situations like a 7-15 Rose Hill team at state and not teams like McPherson and Wamego, who have been staples the past few years. The Bullpups ran roughshod over the Rockets in two meetings this season, but the sub-state Rose Hill was in greatly boosted its chances.
Anyone associated with the MHS program, however, was left fuming by the way the proceedings played out on Saturday.
The Bullpups, a team that had not been plagued by foul trouble at all during the season, were tagged with a whopping 23 in the first three quarters alone. And you had a feeling the way the game was going, a foul call would determine the eventual result. Buhler shot 26 free throws in the game, McPherson eight.
Buhler’s crafty, sure-fire All-Stater Jessica Steffen made the play of the game when she created a foul situation and responded by making a pair of clutch free throws with 4.2 seconds left. She then stole the in-bounds pass to preserve the win. From my vantage point, there was minimal contact on the play, but apparently enough to warrant the whistle.
This game, to me, wasn’t lost at the end as Taylor Robertson led an MHS comeback that put it in position to win. The Bullpups had sped to a seven-point lead and seemed to be in control much of the first half. But just as in the first meeting between the two, the Crusaders ruled the third quarter as fouls sent some of the key Bullpup principles to the bench.
McPherson High coach Chris Strathman was the epitome of class after the game. He immediately congratulated the arch-rival Crusaders on making it to state and also gave praise to his team that did everything it could to win the game. It came down to the final play and the creative Steffen got the job done.
I posted a column last week that I thought this was Strathman’s best coaching job in his 10 years and just because the Bullpups didn’t make state, I still believe that. He had three seniors who never had started in previous years and blended them with eight underclassmen who will no doubt use Saturday’s disappointment as motivation for next year. He may have the best 1-2 freshman duo in Kansas in Taylor Robertson and Mandi Cooks, who are going to be the focus of opposing teams next year. And some of the other returnees would be the best player on other teams.
As Strathman said after the game, the Bullpups should hold their heads high. They handled themselves with class in victory and in the few times they lost. The program is in good hands and I fully expect them to be in Salina next year after a one-year hiatus.