SALINA — The Class 4A Division 1 State Championship was in the palm of their hands, but it slipped away when the McPherson High School boys basketball team came up short in a 57-54 loss to Bishop Miege High School. The Stags won their third straight state title on Saturday, while the Bullpups’ shot at a 14th state championship has to wait until next year.
Everything seemed to go McPherson's way in the first half. Ben Pyle dominated the court with 17 points prior to halftime, and the Bullpups had a comfortable 25-14 lead, though Pyle was the only player in double-figures.
Everything changed in the third quarter after the Stags made up an 11-point deficit.
The Bullpups went scoreless for five minutes during the third and momentum shifted quickly after the Stags made back-to-back 3-pointers. Bishop Miege was leading 34-30 at the start of the fourth quarter.
The Bullpups held on, but Pyle was in foul trouble. The Western Illinois commit had a tough task of guarding the 6-foot-9 junior Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who recorded a double-double Saturday night with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
"Jeremiah (Robinson-Earl) is really good. I thought we battled him with our one-on-one jump. The bottom line is that we didn't get it done," Bullpups head coach Kurt Kinnamon said.
Pyle shot a 30-footer to keep it a single-digit game. With two minutes left, Pyle, who scored 22 points that night, was fouled out. Though it was a huge blow during crunch time, the Bullpups had to finish the mission without their all-time leading scorer.
"A lot of strange things happened here but I'm extremely happy and proud of this group. This is a group of winners and it showed that we were able to come back. We could've thrown in the towel and give up, but I thought we continued to fight until the end," Kinnamon said.
For the Stags, it was an opportunity to close out their victory. Spencer Jones had only five points in the first half, but ended as the leading scorer with 22 points.
Trailing 53-49 with 1:43 left, Mason and Jake Alexander stepped up after going scoreless in the first half. Mason Alexander lead the way with 14 points, and then made a key 3-pointer shot to bring the score to 53-49. After Jake Alexander scored his seventh point of the night, it was 53-51 with 11.9 seconds left. Drew Labertew was fouled and had the opportunity to tie the ball game but missed his only attempt and time ran out for the Bullpups.
"I feel bad for the seniors because they are such a good group of young men. They had so much success and I'm disappointed that we weren't able to give them the state championship after playing for it for the last few years. There's nothing I could say in the locker room that would make them feel any better. The hurt and pain are going to be there. All I can say to them is how much I'm proud of them," Kinnamon said.
The Bullpups finished the season at 22-2. They are now 13-14 all-time in state finals.
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