Big time players make big time plays in the biggest situations.
When No. 1 ranked Newton needed a bucket, they turned to their dynamic guard DesiRay Kernal for answers. And with less than five seconds remaining in a tie game, Kernal made a move to the paint, absorbed contact and a foul, and buried a midrange jumper to give the Railers a lead.
Kernel would miss the ensuing free throw, but the Bullpups had four seconds to go the length of the court to tie the game — something they were unable to do.
As Riley Hett’s game tying 3-point attempt was blocked, the McPherson High School girls basketball team dropped a heartbreaking game to undefeated Newton, 39-37, Tuesday night at the McPherson Roundhouse.
McPherson’s Taylor Robertson went tit for tat with Kernal, as each dynamic guard scored 16 to lead their respective teams.
The loss, however painful, is a reminder to why the Bullpups schedule these games in the regular season. There’s a solid chance the Bullpups will run into a team of Newton’s caliber in the postseason. They now know what it takes to win a game of this magnitude.
“I was really proud of our effort and how we made plays to give ourselves a chance — they just made the last play,” head coach Chris Strathman said. “This was the first truly tight game we have played this season where we had to make plays under pressure. At times we did that, and at times our lack of experience showed through a bit. That’s why we wanted Newton back on our schedule.”
Newton held a distinct size advantage which allowed them to get to loose balls and into the paint. The Railers held a 26-14 advantage in the paint, along with a 14-2 advantage in second chance opportunities. Newton had 13 offensive rebounds to the Bullpups’ seven.
The Railers bullied their way to an early 13-7 first quarter lead and led by as many as eight in the second quarter before the Bullpups fought back.
Robertson nailed a 3-pointer as time expired to cut the Newton lead to 21-17 at halftime.
Trailing by six entering the fourth quarter, the Bullpups buckled down and took their first lead of the game at the 4:20 mark thanks to an Emma Yowell 3-pointer. The Bullpups forced a turnover on the following possession, which led to three Hannah Hageman free throws after she was fouled on a 3-point attempt.
The sophomore made two of them to give the Bullpups their largest lead of the game, 35-32, with 3:35 remaining. Jordan Bruner fouled out about a minute later in a tie game, delivering a big blow to the McPherson defense as she was the primary defender on Kernal.
Both teams had their chances down the stretch, but ultimately Newton made the most of theirs. It is the end of a seven game winning streak for McPherson, and it’s the 10th straight win to start the season for the Railers.
“Hats off to Newton, they’re a great team, great defensively with their size and athleticism. They’re going to give everybody they play fits.” Strathman said.
Neither team shot the ball well as both elite defenses were able to overwhelm a pair of lethal offenses. McPherson shot 34 percent from the field (12-25) while Newton was 14 of 40 from the field for 35 percent.
The Bullpups have over a week to prepare and respond before the always challenging Mid America Classic on Jan. 26.
The junior varsity team won their 57th game in a row with a 55-31 victory over Newton. Andrea Sweat led the way with 13 points.
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