EMPORIA—It felt like the state championship because of the championship effort from both McPherson High School and St.Thomas Aquinas girls basketball team. Both teams left it all on the court, especially defensively, but in the end, time ran out for the Lady Pups as they were edged out by the Saints, 44-36. St.Thomas Aquinas will advance to their fourth straight finals, which will be on Saturday.
It wasn't a great shooting night for the Bullpups as they were 11-for-41 from the basket and 4-for-19 from behind the arc. McPherson did play fast and scrappy from the inside, which they needed to if they wanted to get their rebounds.
Alayna Townsell, who was scoreless in the quarterfinals, put on a strong performance for the Saints as she led with 19 points and nine rebounds.
"We knew that Townsell would bounce back when she scored zero points on Wednesday. She's their best player and she showed that today with 19," Bullpups' Head Coach Chris Strathman said. "I thought overall our kids competed and left everything on the field. They did what we asked them to do and I'm really proud of their effort."
It was a low-scoring first quarter with Saints leading 10-8, but the offense got going from each side in the second quarter. The Lady Pups had been strong defensively, relying on their full-court press to create turnovers. Emma Ruddle and Lakyn Schiefereke wre putting the points on the board.
The Saints still held the lead going into the locker room with a 22-21 lead.
McPherson continued to give the Saints no breathing room, but on the opposite end, McPherson tried to make a run on the offensive side, but couldn't make the open-look shots when needed.
St.Thomas carried their highest lead of the night going into the fourth quarter with a 34-29 lead.
Strathman had the perfect plan to catch up to St. Thomas, and that was forcing a foul and put the Saints on the free throw line.
After a missed free throw from Townsell, Pyle made a needed three-pointer to have McPherson trailing 38-35 with a minute left. The Saints needed one basket to put McPherson away and the rest they would leave it up to their free throw attempts, where they were 6-for-10 from the line. The Lady Pups only made one point in the final minute despite having plenty of chances to tie the game or regain the lead.
The Bullpups had it all planned out but was still not enough to take out the Saints.
Pyle led the Bullpups with 15 points and eight rebounds. Schieferecke was the second leading scorer with 11 points, and Ruddle picked up nine points.
"We had some looks late, some pretty good looks, but we just couldn't hit to go," Strathman said. We talked at halftime about being aggressive and sometimes, even early in possessions, if you got an open look and if you can shoot, than you need to shoot it because that would be the best look we ever get."
McPherson will return to White Auditorium as they will take on Kansas City Schlagle on Saturday at noon.
Contact Peter Holland Jr. by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Petes_Picks_orour sports page @MacCountySports