It’s getting to be a perennial habit.
For the third straight year, McPherson and Bishop Miege found themselves matched Saturday in the Class 4A-Division I boys title game.
If there were a year where the Bullpups might prevail, this might have been it. But Miege rallied and held on to escape with the championship 57-54.
Unlike the past two title games, where Miege had won by 13 and 10 points, respectively, this game remained in doubt until the final seconds, with the final points being scored with 0.1 seconds left.
Afterward, Stags coach Rich Zych was beaming but very much aware of the battle his team had waged. He said it was the most satisfying of the three championships.
“I think we were the underdog, and with their crowd, and on the road,” he said. “Probably with the other two, I thought we were more talented.”
Not to mention being much younger than the earlier champions.
“Jeremiah (Robinson-Earl) got in foul trouble, and the other guys came through for us, which made it even more remarkable,” Zych said.
From the way the game started, Miege’s dominance suddenly was on the ropes. The Bullpups limited Miege to 28.6 percent shooting from the field and took a 25-14 halftime lead.
McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon credited the defensive scheme with neutralizing Miege’s strengths.
“It was a ‘Y-and-1’ defense,” he said. “We did a really good job of identifying where (Ezekiel) Lopes was, and we did a good job of sagging inside.
“We did a good job of helping on two ‘bigs.’ I thought we did a really nice job.”
But when the Stags (22-3) began to hit, there was no stopping them. They shot 92.3 percent from the field after halftime (12 of 13) and had regained the lead for good by the end of the third quarter.
“Down 11, maybe 12, to rely on some kids that we’re not used to relying on, we hit some big shots and fought our butts off,” Zych said. “We fought all the way back, got Jeremiah in there, and played well down the stretch.
Miege’s imposing front line of 6-9 Robinson-Earl, 6-8 Joshua Early and 6-5 Spencer Jones failed to intimidate McPherson in the first half. To add to the problems, Robinson-Earl picked up three fouls in the opening half.
“They did a good job on us,” Zych said. “And, we were struggling with foul trouble the whole first half.”
Jones’ shot came alive, hitting all six of his attempts for 18 points. Robinson-Earl scored 13 second-half points that combined with his 11 rebounds for a double-double. Jeremiah Garrett also made both of his second-half shots and had eight points, hitting key baskets during the Miege comeback.
“If Jones doesn’t make shots, it’s an even bigger (first-half) deficit, but he did a good job of making shots,” Kinnamon said.
McPherson (22-2) refused to surrender, however. Senior Ben Pyle scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half, and he found support in the second half from fellow senior Mason Alexander, who scored all 14 of his points after halftime. The Bullpups weren’t exactly cold from the field, either. They hit 40 percent in the first half and 52.6 percent in the second – totals that usually prevail in high school games.
“It started to get away, and we just fought back,” Kinnamon said. “That’s the way these kids operate. That’s what’s in their DNA. That’s the way they’ve been their whole career.”
After three battles, Zych said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Part IV a year from now.
“It’s always fun,” he said. “That’s why I’m bald.”
B.Miege — Jones 23, Robinson-Earl 18, Garrett 8, Stone 3, Lopes 3, Early 2
McPherson — B. Pyle 22, M. Alexander 14, J. Alexander 7, J. Alexander 6, C. Stufflebean 4, D. Labertew 1
Arkansas City 57, Andover Central 57: Hunter O’Toole’s buzzer-beating runner on the baseline gave the fourth-seeded Bulldogs (19-6) a narrow victory over third-seeded Andover Central (18-6). O’Toole finished with six. Cevin Clark and Cooper Pierce led Ark City with 11 points apiece. Braden Belt’s 18 and Xavier Bell’s 14 paced the Jaguars.
ARKANSAS CITY – Clark 11, Pierce 11, O’Toole 6, Spencer 3, Stewart 5, Fiorentino 9, J. Wilson 5, A. Wilson 7.
ANDOVER CENTRAL – Belt 18, Bell 14, Crawford 3, Leedom 8, Mackie 5, Parnell 7.