The McPherson Bullpups came into the Class 4A State Quarterfinal matchup against the Abilene Cowboys with not the strongest record in the final eight in the state of Kansas. In fact, some say it might be the worst season record in over 30 years but the Bullpups were on a roll so don’t tell the 12 young men wearing red in the Abilene gym that not much was going to be expected of them.
After defeating Buhler, the top ranked team in their sub-state bracket, McPherson marched into the Abilene High School gym Monday night and wasted little time in separating themselves from the Cowboys on the court. The Bullpups improved to 13-10 on the year with a 51-30 thumping of the Cowboys.
“McPherson had a lot to do with us not scoring the basketball,” Abilene head coach Erik Graefe said. “They are so aggressive defensively and so physical. We thought Concordia was physical but this is a different animal all-together. We could never get comfortable offensively. I would like to say we were cold but they made that happen. They are challenged offensively for a McPherson team but they demand that intensity on the defensive end and makes up for a lot of mistakes. They play a different style of basketball in that league they are in. We don’t see anything like that all year with maybe the exception of Hays.”
The defensive pressure brought by the Bullpups was beyond anything the Cowboys had witnessed this season. Coach Kurt Kinnamon’s squad guarded the Cowboys so hard that Abilene didn’t get its first basket of the night until very late in the opening period when Avery Bryson banked in a shot and they got their fourth point on a strong play to the basket by Grant Heintz.
Meanwhile, Mac’s offense was clicking as senior Jayton Alexander swished a pair of threes to lead his team on a 12-4 first quarter score. Not a lot of points scored in the first half by either team but the Bullpups added 10 points in the second period as Alexander hit from long range and he gave Mac a 10-point advantage early in the period with a basket that was ruled goal tending on the Cowboys.
Abilene senior Josh Stuber kept the Cowboys within eight with an old fashioned three point play with two and half minutes to play. Alexander answered with his third three of the game and fellow senior Elijah Pyle found his long range to put Mac up by 12 points after Jaylen West scored for the Cowboys.
The third quarter has not been friendly to Abilene on the offensive end for most of the year and Monday was no exception. The Bullpups went on a 14-6 run as they continued to widen the gap in the contest.
The defensive pressure by Mac was so good in the game as they had Abilene’s shooters covered with a body or a hand in the face that ultimately led to the 21 point win. Mac took care of Abilene’s Kaleb Becker by limiting him to a season low in scoring with eight points as they held him to one field goal in the game, a third period three.
Abilene’s defensive pressure was not absent in the contest; the Cowboys just had not faced an athletic skilled team like McPherson this year. All credit for the win goes to the McPherson team on this night.
“We talked about their defensive pressure that we expected but it was different seeing it first hand,” Graefe said. “We can’t recreate that look in one practice to be ready for them. We were just on our heels from the first possession tonight. They were smart and moved the ball and had time to set their feet and we were always in a hurry to get shots off.”
Alexander had a game high 20 points to lead the Bullpups in the win. Stuber was high point for the Cowboys with nine and Becker finished with eight.
McPherson worked the lead to 26 points midway through the fourth quarter but West went deep and Cooper Wildey came off the bench for a couple of hustle baskets and Becker hit some free throws for the Cowboys.
McPherson improved its all-time record against the Cowboys to 63-18 with the dominating win. They will advance to play in the final four Thursday evening in Salina.
The loss Monday drops the Cowboys season record to 13-6 and it ended the high school career of six Abilene seniors. Stuber, McVan, Bryson, Heintz and Kaden Coup and Kieryan Anderson played their last game as a Cowboy in the loss. They can leave with a positive note as they took their team to state, first time since 2017.
“It’s such an abrupt ending every year,” Graefe said. “To see your seniors in their crying and being with each other for the last time is hard. I wish we could have put them in a better position but those six leaders have played together since grade school. At some point in the season every one of these guys shined as they led our team.
“Whether it was Josh coming off the bench or Grant coming off the bench or Kieryan’s minutes diminishing but still playing hard in practice. Blaise used to be just a shooter but if you watched him this year he got rebounds and he defended as well as anyone. Josh, think about what he did in those sub-state games. He created such a miss match and he always guarded the opponent’s best and a lot of the time he shut them down. We play so many teams in our league that are little and so it was tough to get minutes defensively for Grant but he handled it like a man. He came in when he could and continued to compete on the boards. Avery is such an incredible defensive player for us and Kaden besides being a scrappy tough defender, he is also game smart and I thank him for being a voice on the bench and helping me out.”
“These kids will be really missed next year,” Graefe said. “But I think we have a lot of talent coming back. Kaleb and Jaylen are back for their senior year and Cooper and Braden Adams and the others that got in the game tonight. You put those guys with that young freshmen team that went undefeated and we will be there. But we have got to get in the weight room and we have to continually get better so that we can be a team that plays defense like Mac did tonight.”
Contact Ron Preston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McPherson 51, Abilene 30
McPherson 12 10 18 11 – 51
Abilene 4 6 8 12 – 30
McPherson – Pyle 6, Dukes 4, Madron 8, Alexander 20, Miller 8, Gibbs 5. Totals: 16 (6) 1-4 51.
Abilene – Stuber 9, West 5, Bryson 2, Wildey 4, Becker 8, Heintz 2. Totals: 8 (2) 8-13 30.