Friday night in Roeland Park pits the best public school basketball teams against the top private school teams in what is quickly becoming a high-stakes rivalry.
The topic of Bishop Miege invokes a strong reaction from many McPherson fans — deservingly so. The high-powered Stags prevented McPherson High School from raising two banners in basketball last March, and the memories are still fresh in the minds of players and fans alike.
The campus of Bishop Miege should be rocking when the top two teams in Class 4A DI, boys and girls, clash for the third time in a year. While the winning teams will not be crowned state champions Friday night, the atmosphere and level of competition might make it feel like a championship game.
The McPherson boys know Bishop Miege about as well as anyone outside the Kansas City area. The Bullpups and Stags have met in the state playoffs the last three years — in 2016 and 2017, the Stags defeated McPherson for a state championship. In 2015, the Bullpups won a semifinal game against the Stags on their way to a 25-0 state championship season.
The Bullpups no doubt have a bitter taste in their mouth left by the Stags the last two seasons. A win in enemy territory Friday night would not only improve the Bullpups to 3-0, but would be the second big win in a row for the Bullpups, who handled Derby Tuesday night, 73-58.
“Confidence level is high because we feel like Derby is a good team,’ head coach Kurt Kinnamon said. “We are familiar with [Bishop Miege’s] personnel and tendencies. It will be a fun challenge on the road.”
The Miege boys graduated five seniors last season, but 6-foot-9 junior Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and 6-foot-7 junior Josh Early are back and provide plenty of firepower for the Stags to once again be elite. Robinson-Earl is a five star recruit according to 247Sports and is likely headed to Kansas, while Early is being looked at by mid major Division I schools.
In both last year’s game in the Roundhouse and the state championship game, the Bullpups were not able to rebound effectively. McPherson will need to be much more competitive on the boards if they are to snap their losing streak to Bishop Miege.
“We have to get five guys to the defensive glass and limit them to one shot by scrapping like we did in the first half on Tuesday,” Kinnamon said.
The McPherson High girls will be pushed just as much as the boys. The Stags have won the past four state championships on the girls’ side and have the talent to make it five in a row this year.
Miege returns nearly its entire squad from last year, including 6-foot-3 center Ashton Verhulst. Verhulst’s sister Peyton is a talented 6-foot-2 freshman, while 6-foot-1 freshman Faith Hawthorne had a double double in Miege’s season opener.
Not to mention Miege’s talented backcourt of twins Johnni and Jordynn Gonzales who apply tremendous defensive pressure. All in all, the Miege girls do not have any glaring weaknesses.
The Bullpups will need to play with confidence if they are to pull off the win in hostile territory.
“Our girls are confident as we get ready to head up to Kansas City to play Miege,” head coach Chris Strathman said, “but we know we have a great challenge ahead of us. The girls are competitors though so I know they are looking forward to the opportunity.”
Win or lose, a game like this will only help the Bullpups down the road.
“The competition can expose our weaknesses so that hopefully we can make corrections moving forward,” Strathman said. “Miege is obviously an outstanding team and we will learn a lot from this opportunity.”
Game time for the girls will be moved up to 5:30 p.m. while the boys are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Contact Gallagher Martin by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GMartinSentinel