The tears in the eyes of McPherson High girls’ senior Katelyn Loecker after Saturday’s Class 4A girls’ title game spoke volumes of how much it meant to repeat as the state champions, a feat not done since the late 1990s.
It was not to be, however, as the Wamego Red Raiders defeated the Bullpups 60-53 in front of a packed Salina Bicentennial Center crowd.
The Bullpups found themselves trailing for a majority of the game, but the sheer determination of Loecker kept them within striking distance until fouls ended her Bullpup career with more than three minutes left in the game.
Despite the loss of Loecker, or even maybe because of, MHS refused to give up, keeping the game within three points through the final minute of play, when senior Hailey Ruder also drew her fifth foul. Junior Janae Barnes seemed to take it upon herself to lead the Bullpup charge, but fell short in the final minutes as the Red Raiders hit their free throws down the stretch.
Loecker finished with 25 points on the night, with eight rebounds. Barnes stepped up with 15 second-half points, while Ruder added eight.
McPherson High coach Chris Strathman was somber post-game as he reflected on the contributions of his senior class, which included Loecker, Ruder and Taylor Schiedegger, who transferred to McPherson for her senior season.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “Katelyn started 100 games in her career and went 89-11. They were in three final fours; one first place, one second place, one third place. Quite a career they had, and I was just fortunate to have been able to coach them.”
Loecker leaves MHS as a shoo-in for the Roundhouse Wall of Fame, given her accolades. She’s been a mult-time all-league, tournament, class and state honoree, is the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year and was nominated for the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game, though she missed the cut for the team. She will join the Oklahoma State University Cowgirls in the fall semester. Ruder has signed with Washburn University’s soccer program, a dream since middle school, with plans of studying athletic training and physical therapy.
Strathman brings back a solid nucleus for next year’s team, including Barnes and sharpshooting guard Abby Pedersen, both juniors, who will look to get McPherson back into the title game in 2014. Life will go on for the McPherson High girls’ basketball team. Still, the tears of these Bullpups Saturday night indicated just how much sweeter life would have been with a different trophy.