TOPEKA — The better part of the last three years had been dedicated for this run to happen, so of course the McPherson girls believed it was coming.
Somehow the Bullpups had to escape this late-game deficit Blue Valley had put them in. They never did, and walked away stunned, losing to Blue Valley 56-52 in the Class 5A semifinals Friday.
Blue Valley will face St. Thomas Aquinas in today's championship game. "We worked hard for this," McPherson senior Casyn Buchman said. "We practiced every Saturday after games. We were ready for it this year... I honestly thought we were going to be able to pull it out."
What McPherson ran into was a team that was simply better. The Tigers were crisp with their passes — 12 assists on 19 field goals and six turnovers — and hit over 50 percent of their shots.
"I don't really think there was anything missing for us," McPherson senior Sarah Gaeddert said. "I just think Blue Valley played a really good game."
Another crucial part of the win was the Tigers' defense on Buchman, who never found her touch in a 3-of-15 shooting performance. Buchman finished with 13 points and eight assists.
"With her it's all about the position you're in when she catches the ball," Blue Valley coach Andrew Unrein said. "If you're not ready to guard the drive or challenge the shot, she is going to score."
McPherson briefly took the lead in the third quarter, but a 7-1 run by Blue Valley to start the fourth quarter opened up a 50-44 lead with 3:19 left. Then the Bullpups started pressing.
"We could never really string together several possessions in a row where we scored or even got the shots we wanted," McPherson coach Chris Strathman said. "When we did score, it always seemed like they had the answer. It was mentally deflating."
Sophomore post Katelyn Loecker led McPherson with 23 points.
A late rally by the Bullpups saw them draw to within two points with 15 seconds left, but Blue Valley's Emily Ball made two free throws to seal the win.
"We stuck together through everything," Buchman said. "But it hurts a lot more now than it did back then."