McPherson High coach Chris Strathman had a moment at the end of the third quarter of the Bullpups' 53-38 Class 4A semifinal win over Paola Friday night that could be considered deja vu.
As the buzzer sounded at the end of the third, McPherson (22-3) held a slight 38-32 lead over the Panthers. The attention, however, was on the figure of senior star Katelyn Loecker, who was prone on the floor after a scramble for the ball.
"It was the exact same situation as last year," Strathman said. "End of the third quarter, we call a full long. Last year she went out with a rolled ankle, this year a chin cut."
Loecker was led to the training room as the fourth quarter got under way to deal with the bloody cut, leaving the Bullpups looking a little rattled for the first three minutes of the final quarter.
"The first three possessions without her, we didn't have very good possessions," Strathman said.
Fortunately, Loecker returned with 5:35 left to go in the period, finishing with a game and tournament-high 27 points, guiding the Pups to their second straight championship appearance this afternoon.
Paola (19-5) jumped out in front early, thanks to the sharpshooting of sophomore guard Lyndsee Johnson.
A pair of Loecker free throws was followed quickly by a three from junior Abby Pedersen at the 2:24 mark of the first quarter that gave McPherson a 9-6 lead and sparking an epic 19-2 run that stretched through the rest of the first and into the first three minutes of the second quarter.
Paola 6-4 sophomore Tiana Moala would answer the Bullpup run by guiding the Panthers through a 9-1 run of their own, culminating in another Johnson three pointer that made it 23-15 McPherson with 4:30 showing on the clock.
Pedersen scored on another distance shot with 1:20 left in the half to give McPherson a 29-20 lead at the break.
Paola closed the gap even more in the third, getting to within five points with around six minutes left in the quarter.
Paola took advantage of Loecker's absence in the beginning of the fourth to get the score to 38-34 with 6:05 left in the game, but that would be as close as they were able to get.
McPherson would roll on a 15-4 run through the rest of the quarter, including a three-point dagger from Hannah Willems that all but sealed the win with 4:05 on the clock.
"That was huge," Strathman said of Willems' shot. "All that possession, you could see it coming. We knew she was going to have a wide open look because (Moala) was on her and she was just standing in the lane."
In addition to her 27 points, Loecker also had a game high nine blocked shots, four assists and four rebounds.
Page 2 of 2 - Strathman indicated that Loecker was going to get stitches for the cut on her chin and didn't show any signs of a head injury, so she should be set to go against Wamego.
Senior Hailey Ruder was 2-of-5 on three-point shooting for the night and finished with 11 points.
The win sets up a 1-2 battle for the championship with top-seeded Wamego, who advanced over Fort Scott 63-46 Friday afternoon.
Strathman sees potential problems with the Red Raiders in the forms of sisters Kaylee and Lanie Page.
"Both are 6-2," Strathman said. "They handle the basketball well, they rebound really well, they shoot well. Wamego is just a multi-talented group."
Tipoff from the Salina Bicentennial Center is set for today at 4 p.m. The third place games begin at noon.