SALINA — “Losing” simply isn’t a word that exists in the McPherson High boys’ vocabulary.
Not this season at least.
A perfect season with a capital “P” was completed Saturday night when the Bullpups won the battle of unbeatens for the Class 4A Division I state championship with a 74-60 decision over Basehor-Linwood, giving MHS a 25-0 record and 13th state championship — and its second in as many years.
This Bullpup team, however, joins an elite McPherson pantheon that also includes the 1990 and 1994 teams — the only three in MHS history to go undefeated.
It was the sixth state championship for 20-year coach Kurt Kinnamon — who is now 405-70 — and the third in the last five years.
And this one may have been the toughest.
Basehor-Linwood, a gritty, snarling, physical team, pushed the Bullpups for three quarters before a quick rip to start the final period opened up some breathing room, and then MHS paraded to the foul line as the Bobcats extended the game to the limit as they didn’t want to see their 24-1 season end.
MHS scored an astonishing 32 points in the fourth quarter to turn a two-point nailbiter into the 23rd double-digit victory of the year. The Bullpups cashed in 18 of 23 free throws in the final 8 minutes.
“They pressured (defensively) as good as anyone we have seen,” said Kinnamon, whose brother Clint also repeated as a state champion Saturday as St. John actually won its third title in a row and second in a row as an undefeated team. “We only turned it over 12 times and that was big. When Kyler (Kinnamon) got in foul trouble (he picked up his third with 6:06 to go in the first half), I was worried — worried about the ballhandling aspect. (The) Kids we brought (in) just did a good job. I’m really proud of them.”
Fouls were the story of the game. The aggressive Bobcats were whistled 33 times, allowing MHS to make 30 of 41 free throws — 23 of 30 in the second half. Three ‘Cats fouled out, including inside mainstays Patrick Muldoon and Carson Fliger, and guard Joseph Gorman.
MHS had foul trouble of its own, but Kinnamon smartly didn’t get whistled in the second half to finish with three, Spenser Wine and Nathan Nutter had four, and Payton Stephens and Jacob Loecker had three as MHS totaled 21.
The Bullpups survived with Kinnamon being on the bench almost the entire second quarter to lead 29-19 at the half. Basehor, though, didn’t enter the game undefeated without having a fighter’s mentality, whittling the margin to scant deuce after three quarters, 42-40.
MHS, however, started the fourth quarter fast. It went on a 13-2 lick, with perhaps a key play being a steal by Loecker that led to a Stephens basket. Fliger and Muldoon fouled out shortly after and the capper was the first dunk of the year by Wine, which caused the MHS fans to shake the stands.
Stephens was a powerhouse with 24 points, making 8 of 11 shots and 8 of 9 from the line as he stepped up his game when the bright lights came on. Kinnamon and Drew Pyle scored 12, and Nathan Nutter was a defensive demon with three steals and scored 10 points while providing a relentless motor at both ends of the court.
“I thought Payton was just huge,” Kinnamon said. “He was fantastic. He was a workhorse all on a knee that’s probably going to need surgery now. I am very proud of Payton and the whole group. It’s really this group of young men that epitomizes what a team is.”
Jahron McPherson, a sensational talent, scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to lead Basehor, but no other Bobcat hit for doubles.
The Bullpups are riding an unprecedented wave of excellence. Since winning the 5A title in 2011, they are 109-11 and have won 48 of their last 49.
They’ll enter next year without Kinnamon, Nutter and Stephens, but with starters Pyle and Wine back, along with a bench that proved to be leather-tough, who knows. Back-to-back-to-back?
MHS (74) — McDaniel 0-1, 3-4, 3; Reed 0-0, 0-0, 0; Smith 0-0, 0-0, 0; Loecker 1-1, 0-1, 2; D. Pyle 4-9, 3-5, 12; B. Pyle 1-1, 0-0, 3; Kinnamon 2-3, 8-8, 12; Stephens 8-11, 8-9, 24; Alexander 0-1, 1-2, 1; Wine 1-2, 4-4, 6; Nutter 4-7, 2-4, 10; Gabel 0-0, 1-2, 1. Totals — 21-35, 30-41, 74. 3-pointers — D. Pyle 1, B. Pyle 1.
Basehor-Linwood (60) — McPherson 6-11, 8-8, 22; Hazel 2-4, 0-1, 4; Gorman 2-6, 3-4, 9; Fisher 2-3, 1-2, 6; Gilliams 2-7, 0-0, 4; Ku. Tatkenhorst 0-1, 0-2, 0; Muldoon 2-5, 0-0, 4; Fliger 3-3, 2-2, 8; Ka. Tatkenhorst 0-1, 1-2, 1. Dale 1-2, 0-0, 2. Totals — 20-43, 15-21, 60. 3-pointers — McPherson 2, Gorman 2, Fisher 1.