SALINA — McPherson High’s boys are exactly where they expected to be since the first day of the season.
Heading into the last day, they’re one victory away from achieving back-to-back state championships, something they haven’t done since the 1991-92 seasons when they were completing a run of three straight.
MHS will be seeking its 13th state title Saturday at the Bicentennial Center against a likewise 24-0 team, Basehor-Linwood.
The game tips off at 6:15 p.m., which follows a girls’ game that also matches undefeated 24-0 teams Bishop Miege and Paola, which starts at 4 p.m.
The Bullpups had to deploy everything in their arsenal to subdue Bishop Miege 79-68 in a wildly entertaining semifinal game.
“They were a very impressive team,” said MHS coach Kurt Kinnamon, who will be seeking his sixth state championship in his 20 years at the helm. “Very quick, very athletic, long, attacked well. The thing that makes me so proud, and I always say this, the biggest compliment I get about our team is about how hard they play. I really felt like our guys played tremendously hard tonight. Every single one of them.”
Kinnamon considers the word “zone” a bad, four-letter word, but it was good to the Bullpups on this night.
“People think that I’m anti-zone and I probably am because I don’t like it very much,” said Kinnamon, whose team has now won 39 games in a row and 47 of its last 48. “But I like whatever will help you win a game and just felt like playing that would give us the best chance.”
That zone limited the Stags to 24 of 52 from the field and just 3 of 15 from 3-point, two of those makes coming after the outcome had been decided. While MHS did get handled on the boards — the Stags had a 31-24 rebounding advantage — it was hard for them to come back two points at a time instead of three.
The Bullpups actually took the lead for good when Drew Pyle drained his second of three 3-pointers in the first quarter, which made the score 14-12. MHS finished the period on a 10-4 run to lead 24-16 and even despite some foul trouble for Pyle, Spenser Wine and Kyler Kinnamon, the Bullpups took a 33-24 lead into the half, with freshman reserve Mason Alexander hitting two big free throws with .01 on the clock.
The key to the second half was a great start as the Bullpups blew it out to 19, 52-33, and still led 58-41 going into the final period. While the Stags jabbed a bit at the lead, the Bullpups never allowed it to get closer than nine.
The Bullpups kept the ball in the hands of Kinnamon in the second half and he scored 21 of his 25 points after the break. The senior All-State All-Class first-team pick for a second year in a row had been delegating more this year, but took it upon himself when his team needed it most.
Rugged Payton Stephens was immense on the inside with 21 points and eight rebounds, despite giving away some size to the taller Stags, who couldn’t handle his strength and quickness. Pyle, who just seems to light up every single time he steps on the Bicentennial Court, added 15.
MHS made 21 of 37 shots and a staggering 33 of 45 from the line as Miege continually fouled in the fourth quarter in an attempt to extend the game. MHS was 24 of 31 after intermission after both teams went into the half 9 of 14.
Alston Jones, an outrageously athletic wing, scored 23 points for Miege, while Semaj Ray added 14, and 6-7 Jacob Meurer added 13 points and 13 boards. The Stags torched the MHS defense in the second half, making 17 of 29 shots, but that couldn’t overcome a 7-of-23 effort in the first half.
Basehor-Linwood defeated Ottawa 51-44 in its semi, but the score was somewhat deceiving as the Bobcats were comfortably in front before the Cyclones closed the gap for cosmetic purposes.
“They’re very good, very good,” Kinnamon said. “We can’t zone them because they can shoot the living crud out of the ball, they can really shoot it.”
This will be the Bullpups’ 23rd state title game. It’s their third state title appearance since 2011, beating KC Washington that year and Topeka Hayden last year.
MHS (79) — McDaniel 0-0, 0-0, 0; Loecker 0-0, 0-0, 0; D. Pyle 4-7, 4-4, 15; B. Pyle 0-1, 0-0, 0; Kinnamon 6-7, 13-18, 25; Stephens 6-10, 8-12, 21; Alexander 0-0, 2-2, 2; Wine 2-3, 4-6, 8; Nutter 3-8, 0-1, 6; Gabel 0-1, 2-2, 2. Totals — 21-37, 33-45, 79. 3-pointers — D. Pyle 3, Stephens 1.
Miege (68) — Gleason 1-2, 0-2, 2; Byers 1-4, 3-4, 6; Jones 9-19, 4-4, 23; Ray 6-13, 1-1, 14; Churchman 1-1, 0-0, 2; Benbow 2-4, 4-6, 8; Downing 0-1, 0-0, 0; Meurer 4-8, 5-6, 13. Totals— 24-52, 17-24, 68. 3-pointers — Byers 1, Jones 1, Ray 1.