Varsity Kansas

Saturday’s Class 5A Finals at Topeka

By Taylor Eldridge (@tjeldridge24)

Final — McPherson boys defeat KC Washington 79-68 (1st place)

Final — St. Thomas Aquinas girls defeat Blue Valley 48-37 (1st place)

Final– St. Thomas Aquinas boys defeat Lansing 40-34 (3rd place)

Final — McPherson girls defeat Shawnee Heights 49-38 (3rd place)

7:57 pm — On a personal side note, I had an incredible day predicting games. My prediction was a Mac win 76-67. The final score was 79-68. So I was 4 total points the exact score of the boys game. The girls game I had STA winning 52-39. The final score was 48-37. So I was 6 total points away from the exact score of the girls game. Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

7:51 pm — Game over. McPherson wins the championship with a 79-68 victory over KC Washington. For Washington, Tra’Vaughn White scored 22 points on 9-of-19 shooting and Myles Hibler scored 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Christian Ulsaker ends the game with 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting and 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Jack Pyle finished with 26 points on 13 of 15 foul shooting and 7 rebounds.

7:48 pm — Chilling moment there. Christian Ulsaker catches a fast-break pass and throws it down with two hands to put an exclamation mark on the school’s 11th state championship. KC Washington goes down and misses and Ulsaker comes up with rebound and is fouled again. He walks to mid-court and turns to the crowd behind their bench and embraces the sea of red supporters that came to see title No. 11 in the 100th anniversary. Pretty cool to see.

7:45 pm — Key stat in this game: 3. As in how many free throws Washington star Tra’Vaughn White attempted this game. He usually lives at the line. But not this game. Credit McPherson. Pyle has 26. Ulsaker has 26. Hibler has 23. White has 22. But McPherson has a 75-68 lead with 21 seconds left.

7:39 pm — Washington’s Myles Hibler misses a wide open lay-in from point-blank range that wasn’t contested. That could be game over for Washington. McPherson leads 72-63 with 1:19 left in the game. What was my prediction again? Oh yeah, McPherson to win 76-67. Dang, I’m way too good.

7:34 pm — Christian Ulsaker. Clutch. He just canned a three-pointer from the wing to give McPherson a 70-60 lead with 2:47 left in the game. Dude has cojones for taking that shot early in the possession and Kinnamon wanting to run clock. Ulsaker has 25 points now.

7:32 pm — It’s go time now if you’re Washington. Something HAS to happen. Time to start gambling and look for the big play because McPherson is now up 67-58 and there’s 3 minutes of your season left.

7:30 pm — Washington’s Tra’Vaughn White is about to shoot his 2nd and 3rd free throws of the game. There’s 4:03 left. In the game. That’s incredible. White usually gets to the line around 15 times. He makes both and Washington is down 64-57 with under four minutes left. A lot of whistles this game. Don’t know how I feel about that. Mostly appropriate calls, though.

7:26 pm — Washington’s Jervon Hooks hits a huge three-pointer to draw to within 57-52 of McPherson. The Bullpups’ response? A Cory Horton floater in the lane and then a steal and a run-out to Jack Pyle for easy lay-in. McPherson up 61-53 with 5:22 left in the game.

7:20 pm — Last 8 minutes of high school basketball. Here we go. McPherson leads 51-44. Last time Washington has 9 comebacks this season. Will this be the 10th? Let’s see. These kids are fighting for their lives right now. A state championship would mean so much to both these teams for different reasons. Let’s see who wants it the most. Start of the 4th now.

7:18 pm — Jack Pyle is just a beast. He just keeps going and going and going at the basket. He just got a floater to fall and got the foul. He completed the 3-point play to give McPherson a 51-44 lead right when it looked like Washington was gearing to make its run. Less than a minute left in the quarter now.

7:14 pm — Washington switches defenses to a half-court 1-3-1 trap. It’s been very effective so far this third quarter and is giving McPherson a lot of trouble handling it. Washington has used it to make a mini-run here to get to within 48-42 with three minutes left.

7:09 pm — Now it’s McPherson racking up the fouls. The Bullpups already have five in the first four minutes of the third quarter. The difference is that it has been spread out and no one is really in foul trouble for McPherson. KC Washington is still strapped with it, but only have two fouls this quarter so that’s a good start. McPherson’s Jack Pyle just drained a three-pointer in the corner to give Mac a 44-34 lead. Washington going to be to bring a lot of offense this half to win.

7:05 pm — McPherson has switched to man-to-man. Jack Pyle was defending Washington’s Tra’Vaughn White and gave him about three feet. I thought that was interesting. That’s what I would do. I would make White prove he has a jump shot, which he has not yet. White pulled the trigger right above the free throw line and misfired. THat will be something to watch to see if White can knock that shot down as the game goes along. He’ll have to. McPherson leads 38-28 with 5:41 left in the 3rd quarter.

6:53 pm — McPherson takes a 36-27 lead into halftime. Here’s my take for each team at halftime:

McPherson: The Bullpups are in complete control right now. They’re playing in front of a huge crowd and have the momentum of the first half now. Christian Ulsaker has been brilliant with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Jack Pyle has been his usual self, getting to the foul line with regularity. He is 7 of 8 right now and has 9 points at half. McPherson did a good job attacking Washington’s pressure with their own aggression. That led to 16 foul shots and McPherson made 14 of them. As long as they keep getting the right shooters to the foul line, McPherson is going to have a huge advantage in this game. KC Washington showed in the first half it was a little foul-happy, so if I’m Kinnamon I tell my guys to keep attacking them and get them even further muddled in foul trouble. Three of their starters have three fouls. If any of them have to sit out for extended amount of time, that only favors McPherson more. The Bullpups’ 11th title is right there within reach, now it’s time for them to bring it home.

KC Washington: If I’m Eric King, I’ve got to tell my guys to settle down. The referees made it very clear they were going to call a strict game and Washington never adjusted to it. They committed 15 fouls in the first half. Three of their starters are in foul trouble with 3 fouls each. That’s put them in a bad position, facing a 9-point halftime deficit now. But there’s hope. Washington is at its best when it can get to the basket. It rarely did that second period. McPherson’s 2-3 zone defense has been sound, but there are seams there. Washington needs to exploit those and get to the basket. Tra’Vaughn White only shot one free throw that half. That has to change. He should be in double-digits. There’s going to be a lot of possessions this game, so 9 points isn’t the end of the world. Still plenty of time to work their way back in it, but Washington is going to have to show some composure and control to not foul as much yet still bring that aggressiveness that gives them their edge. Washington needs a quick run to get back in this game in the third quarter and then let it play out from there. This game is promising to be a good one, though. I’m excited for the second half.

6:52 pm — Washington senior Kalen Allen commits his third foul on a stupid reach-in foul. That’s three Washington starters on the bench now with 3 fouls. They’re riddled with foul trouble and that could severely affect their chances of a comeback in the fourth quarter.

6:49 pm — Washington starter Jervon Hooks picks up his 3rd foul with 1:49 left in the half. That’s Washington’s 13th team foul. Ulsaker makes both of his free throws and now he has 14 points this half. McPherson leads 33-27 with under two minutes left. Washington’s White has been ineffective this quarter. Washington hasn’t been able to get to the rim often.

6:45 pm — McPherson finally picks up its 7th foul and puts Washington into the bonus, much to the delight of their rabid fans sitting behind me. Washington connects on both and is now back to within seven at 29-22 with 3:09 left. Let’s see how many times we’ll be heading to the charity stripe in the last three minutes now.

6:42 pm — Washington in dire need of a basket. They’re settling for outside shots against McPherson’s zone. That’s exactly what the Bullpups want. McPherson just pulled ahead by double-digits at 29-18, but Washington got a nice offensive put-back to bring it back down to 29-20. There’s 3:43 left in the half.

6:40 pm — McPherson is just picking apart Washington’s extended 3-2 zone where they bring two defenders all the way up to half-court to try to trap the ball handler. McPherson is getting the ball to the middle and just going to work. Ulsaker is where the offense is revolving around when he catches the ball in the middle and he hasn’t made a wrong choice yet. McPherson has scored four straight times down the floor now for a 9-0 run and a 27-18 lead over Washington with 5:09 left.

6:31 pm — The top of McPherson’s pressure defense is Cory Horton. He never scores. Literally. Doesn’t ever score. But he made the all-league second-team list because of his defense. He just picked Washington point guard Jervon Hooks and got fouled at the other end. He makes both free throws and ties the game at 16 to start the second quarter.

6:28 pm — Washington’s Tra’Vaughn White with a silky smooth finish in the lane on a floater. He’s fouled but misses the free throw and the game remains tied at 14. McPherson tries to hold for the last shot, but the ball is poked out from Ulsaker and Washington gets a run-out that White finishes to give Washington its first lead of the game, 16-14, a lead they will take to them to the second quarter. Washington’s crowd is in it now. But it’s worrisome the Wildcats are carrying over 8 fouls to the second quarter too.

6:26 pm — McPherson is already in the bonus. Washington has 7 fouls in the first 6 minutes of the first quarter. Washington’s Tra’Vaughn White finally got involved with a driving lay-in finished at the rim. Make that 8 fouls for Washington. They just picked up their third charging call of the night. McPherson leads 14-12 with 1:05 left in the 1st quarter. Washington’s depth will be tested.

6:23 pm — Can already tell this one is going to have a lot of foul calls in it. Pressure is being met with opposing pressure. McPherson and Washington are just going at each other right now, which makes for a very high level basketball game and an exciting one to watch. But the bad news is that this might become a battle of attrition as teams are going to get in foul trouble. Washington already has 5 fouls and McPherson has 4. There’s still 2 minutes left in the 1st quarter with Mac leading 12-8.

6:21 pm — McPherson’s Christian Ulsaker already has 6 points in the first four minutes of the game. Remember, he burned Washington for over 30 in last year’s first-round blow-out win over them. McPherson leads 10-7 with 3:25 left now.

6:18 pm — Two fouls now on Washington’s Kalen Allen. Both on charges. Both taken by Travell Robinson. Washington is slashing toward the basket and Robinson is camping out and waiting, in position, each time. Mac leads 8-6 now.

6:16 pm — I look over at the KC Washington bench and I see Eric King, the coach who’s probably about 6-6, crouched down in a defensive position shuffling his feet like he’s playing defense in the game. Love it. He makes me laugh. How can you not love his passion and energy for the game? McPherson leads 6-4 in the game’s first three minutes.

6:14 pm — McPherson draws first blood, with Christian Ulsaker finding Jack Pyle for the game’s opening bucket with 7 minutes left for a 2-0 lead. Washington’s first 2 possessions have ended in a charge and a traveling violation. McPherson just took a 4-0 lead now on a Ulsaker jumper with 6:17 left in the quarter.

6:07 pm — The jacket is already off for KC Washington’s Eric King. That’s 10 minutes before tip and it’s already off. I love it. Kurt Kinnamon’s is still on, but talk to me after the first two minutes of the game and then we’ll see. By the way, King is like a prize fighter going up and down his team spitting encouragement at them to not fear the huge crowd from McPherson and all the state championship teams that just walked past them in the 100th anniversary celebration. It’s quite impressive. It’s even kind of getting me pumped up.

6:00 pm — We’re 15 minutes away from tipping between KC Washington and McPherson for the Class 5A state championship. TONS and I mean TONS of fans here from McPherson. The town has pretty much completely filled their side of the stands. Very impressive effort, as I’m sure there are plenty of former players from previous state championship teams that are here to be honored for the 100th anniversary special before the game.

5:26 pm — Aquinas knocks off Blue Valley for the third time this season to win their third championship in school history with a perfect 25-0 record. I predicted the score would be 52-39. The actual score was 48-37. Dang, I’m good.

5:18 pm — Aquinas is going to hold on to win its third title. They lead 45-34 with 56 seconds left.

5:11 pm — I suppose there’s still enough time for Blue Valley to make a run at this 39-32 lead of Aquinas with 2:03 remaining, but it just doesn’t seem likely when the other team has DaShawn Harden. The Tigers will need steals or missed Aquinas free throws and quick baskets. I’ll update if anything breaks.

4:55 pm — Blue Valley crumbling under the pressure. Aquinas ends the quarter on a 9-0 run to take a 37-25 lead heading into the final quarter of the state championship game. All the pressure is on Blue valley now. It’s going to have to make something happen on defense and hope the shots start falling on offense. So far Aquinas has been pretty mistake-free, so Blue Valley is going to have to win this game on its own. It can’t expect much help.

4:52 pm — Aquinas has opened up some breathing room now with a 34-25 lead with under three minutes left in the third quarter. STA has scored on three straight possessions and now the pressure is really on Blue Valley to respond. This is why Aquinas is undefeated, though, its pressure just keeps coming and coming and coming. Blue Valley calls a timeout to try to regroup with 2:29 left in the quarter.

4:48 pm — It looked like Blue Valley was gaining some momentum, getting a defensive stop after Aquinas’ Harden turned the ball over but when Blue Valley post Taylor Leathers tried to hand off to her point guard, Harden read it and jetted through for the steal and the easy basket. Now Aquinas is back out to a 28-25 lead with 4:42 left in the 3rd quarter.

4:38 pm — St. Thomas Aquinas students heckling the McPherson boys warming up during halftime (yeah, I’m not sure why either). McPherson’s Jordan Hart shuts them up when he jogs past them and says, “What place did you guys get again? Third?” Aquinas students didn’t have a reply to that. I laughed.

4:34 pm — Wow. What an ending. St. Thomas Aquinas looked like it was heading into the locker room with a 23-17 lead, but Blue Valley’s Aerial Smith banks in a 35-footer at the buzzer to bring the Tigers to within 3 points at halftime. That was huge for Blue Valley.

4:30 pm — Harrison just hit another three-pointer and Aquinas is on a 9-0 run right now built on three three’s. They’ve taken Blue Valley aback some, who now faces a 21-15 deficit with under a minute remaining in the half. Let’s see how each finishes this half out.

4:28 pm — Aquinas’ DaShawn Harden is something else. She just drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 15, and then got the rebound and kicked it out to Maggie Harrison for another three-pointer. And just like that, Aquinas is back in the lead at 18-15 with 1:46 left in the half.

4:22 pm — Look at this. Blue Valley has opened up a healthy 15-12 lead and has protected it here the last minute or so. In fact, Aquinas coach Rick Hetzel coach had to call a 30-second timeout and he looked in amazement at how lethargic his team looked. The longer the Tigers are able to hold this lead, the sooner the invincibility of the Saints vanishes.

4:15 pm — After the first quarter, Blue Valley is sticking with Aquinas. That was important for the Tigers not to dig a hole early in the game against a team that has beat them twice. STA leads 10-9 and this game has been pretty even so far. Let’s see if Blue Valley can hang around for another quarter.

4:06 pm — Remember, this is the 3rd meeting between St. Thomas Aquinas and Blue Valley. The Saints, obviously being undefeated, have won both – by at least 8 points. The Tigers are going to have to play one heck of a game to pull out what would have to be a monumental upset. So far, it’s been a slow start. Aquinas holds a 5-4 lead with 3:30 left in the 1st quarter.

3:17 pm — St. Thomas Aquinas completes its victory, a 40-34 one over Lansing to capture 3rd place in Class 5A. You cannot give Aquinas enough credit for finishing as the 3rd best team in 3A with 10 losses. Very impressive feat.

3:14 pm – St. Thomas Aquinas is making its free throws. Lansing is missing its shots. And that's how this game looks like it's going to end. The Lions just never showed up in today's game. Credit Aquinas, they brought the more consistent effort of the two and it paid off with the win.

3:11 pm – It's been a back-and-forth game, but St. Thomas Aquinas just gave itself some breathing room by scoring on back-to-back possessions to open up a 34-31 lead over Lansing. In a game like this, if it gets over a possession the other team could be in big trouble.

3:09 pm — Back-and-forth game right now with the teams trading the lead four times now in the fourth quarter. Currently it’s Lansing ahead, by the score of 31-30 with three minutes left in the game.

3:04 pm — And Lansing takes its first lead of the game with 6:04 left on a pair of free throws from Joe Schneider. Lions now lead 27-26, but the Saints just answered back with a jump shot of their own to re-take the lead at 28-27 with under five minutes remaining in the game. Should be an interesting final five minutes.

3:02 pm — New life for Lansing. The Lions are in the midst of a 8-0 run and have drawn within a point of St. Thomas Aquinas at 26-25 with 6 minutes left in the game. The Saints are struggling to produce any kind of offense at this point. They have 5 points so far in the second half.

3:00 pm — St. Thomas Aquinas will take a 26-23 lead into the fourth quarter after Lansing ends the quarter on a nice little 6-0 run. In this game, that’s huge. Each team still in it now. Lansing has looked out of it all game. Maybe this will be the spark they need to get going. Aquinas has done just enough to lead this game. Neither are playing spectacular, so this one will come down to who wants to end their season with a win more.

2:53 pm — Neither team can score the ball. It’s kind of troubling, at this point with a minute left in the third quarter. St. Thomas Aquinas is shooting 8 of 31 and Lansing is 6 of 28. That’s a combined 14-of-59. That’s a combined 23.7 percent. That’s a combined amount of bad offense. Aquinas leads 26-19.

2:45 pm — It will be interesting to see if Lansing can shoot itself out of this funk. I’m sure Lansing coach Rod Briggs made it clear to his team that they have 16 more minutes left in the season, and for the seniors, their careers. That should be enough to get anybody motivated. Let’s see how the Lions come out this second half. The early minutes will be telling.

2:27 pm — It’s more about the mental game when it comes to playing in 3rd place games. Right now it looks like Lansing wasn’t ready mentally. They’ve yet to overcome that obstacle and are now stuck in a 19-8 deficit to St. Thomas Aquinas with under two minutes left in the 2nd quarter. Still plenty of time to get out of this funk, but 8 points in 14 minutes is, um, not good.

2:14 pm — Lansing junior Izaiah Grice is clearly on another level than some of his teammates. But sometimes he gets too discouraged when they don’t come through like he feels they should. Grice just had a nice pass to Michael Miller that probably should have been finished, but Miller fumbled the pass and Aquinas got a run-out. But Grice hung his head in frustration and didn’t make it past half-court. Just little body language things like that, but don’t get me wrong Grice is one of the better players of this tournament. St. Thomas Aquinas has an 11-4 lead after the first quarter though. Looks like Lansing is still a little hungover from the loss last night.

2:08 pm — Both of these teams are very deliberate in their styles. They’re both half-court styles, but different mentalities. St. Thomas Aquinas is content passing around the perimeter, just waiting for a defensive lapse, while Lansing generates most of its offense from on-ball screens. This could be a low-scoring game, so Aquinas has to feel good about this 8-2 lead they’re out to in the first five minutes of the game.

2:01 pm — We just tipped off here in the boys 3rd place game and St. Thomas Aquinas already has a 2-0 lead over Lansing in the first minute. Neither is from the area, so a large majority of you probably don’t care but I’ll do my best to provide the occasional update. I like Lansing in this match-up, but who knows how they’ll show up after spending a lot of energy taking KC Washington to the wire last night.

1:20 pm — There are only 2 teams that get to end their season on a win. McPherson is one of them in Class 5A, even though it wasn’t the win they were looking for. But McPherson still has plenty to be proud of in its 49-38 victory over Shawnee Heights to win 3rd place in 5A. The Bullpups finish the season with a 22-3 record and had a great run. Katelyn Loecker led McPherson with 14 points and 9 rebounds, Casyn Buchman added 13 points and 7 rebounds. The supporting cast came through in a big way with Tanner Hein scoring 11 huge points and coming up with 3 steals. Ashton Bruner only scored 5 points, but more importantly grabbed 13 rebounds, including 5 offensive. Great way for the McPherson seniors — Leigh Loving, Casyn Buchman and Sarah Gaeddert — to go out.

1:14 pm — McPherson is in good position to win 3rd place now. The Bullpups are 1 minute, 14 seconds away from winning now with their 47-38 lead looking insurmountable. Still going to need to hit free throws, but at this point, Shawnee Heights is going to need some offense it hasn’t displayed this game in coming back.

1:08 pm — McPherson still struggling a bit taking care of the ball — the same problem that plagued it in yesterday’s loss to Blue Valley. The Bullpups have 17 turnovers in the game, but just showed a nice piece of ballhandling there as they ran off almost a minute of clock. McPherson is trying to protect a 44-36 lead with under three minutes left.

1:04 pm — McPherson senior Sarah Gaeddert fouls out with 4:21 remaining in the game. Ticky tack call and the McPherson mob is not happy about it. But the boos turn to cheers as the senior comes out of her last game of her career. She was never the face of the Bullpups, but she played a very important role on this team as an enforcer down low and a rebounder. Foul trouble kept her to playing only 9 minutes today, a pretty frustrating way to go out, I’m sure. She’ll have to watch from the bench now as McPherson tries to protect a 44-36 lead with four minutes left.

1:02 pm — It’s Buchman again. She receives the ball on the right wing, sees nothing, takes her defender left to the top of the key and draws the help defender. Buchman leaves off a perfect bounce pass to a wide open Tanner Hein, who gets a three-pointer to rattle home for a McPherson 44-36 lead. Big play there. Hein is stepping up big time this game. She has 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.

12:58 pm — Huge follow there from McPherson’s 5-foot-4 guard Tanner Hein. She breaks toward the basket and the ball comes right to her and she’s fouled going up and makes the basket. She completes the 3-point play to give McPherson some breathing room now, up 41-34 with 6 minutes left in the game.

12:55 pm — Not the best quarter for McPherson, considering it held a 10-point lead for most of the early beginnings of the quarter, but it will take its 36-32 lead it has going into the fourth quarter. Buchman didn’t even play much that quarter, so the Bullpups are setting up nicely to finish this off in the fourth. Don’t count out Shawnee Heights though, Cierra Ceazer has the capabilities of going off offensively.

12:52 pm — Shawnee Heights is called for just its 5th foul of the game with 1:35 left in the 3rd quarter. The large McPherson crowd erupts, much to the delight of boys coach Kurt Kinnamon sitting beside me. Funny stuff. Foul disparity is wide right now, but I don’t believe it has been a huge difference in the game. McPherson has handled itself well.

12:47 pm — Key time here for the Bullpups. Strathman trying to get by with some of the back-ups in, as he has Loecker, Buchman, Loving and Gaeddert — all starters — on the bench. He took them out at 3:29 with McPherson holding a 32-23 lead. 34 seconds have passed and now Shawnee Heights is only down by four points. Strathman timeout. That experiment failed, let’s see if the starters come back in and restore the lead.

12:44 pm — A steady start to the second half for McPherson. The Bullpups are maintaining a comfortable 10-point lead over Shawnee Heights currently, up 32-22 with 4:14 left in the 3rd quarter. McPherson’s posts are in some foul trouble, but Katelyn Loecker isn’t and she is doing work inside for the Bullpups. She already has 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and 8 rebounds. She’s going to an absolute beast by the time she is a senior.

12:38 pm — I swear Casyn Buchman makes her first shot of every half. She just got a rainbow three to drop in from the deep wing to give McPherson its largest lead of the game at 10, 28-18, to start the half. She has 11.

12:30 pm — Perfect ending to the half for McPherson, which ends on a 6-0 run capped by a Katelynn Loecker basket with under a second left. The Bullpups take a 25-18 lead over Shawnee Heights into the break. McPherson has to feel good about its defense so far, as it has forced Heights into 11 turnovers and 6-of-21 shooting. Mainly it’s been bothering Heights’ star Ciara Ceazer, which had a decent start to the game but finished 3-of-13. McPherson is getting a balanced effort right now, as Buchman and Loecker have 8 apiece, Ashton Bruner has added 4, Tanner Hein a 3 and Sarah Gaeddert 2. McPherson has set itself up in a good position for the second half. But 3rd place games can bring anything, so who knows. Would be surprised if the Bullpups can’t finish this one off, though.

12:28 pm — A wonderful last two minutes for McPherson, and especially senior Casyn Buchman. I was talking yesterday about how you could learn a lot just  from watching Buchman work without the ball. To further expand on that, I’ll give you an example. McPherson was looking to throw an entry pass to her in the post, but it was crowded and the pass was thrown anyway. Instead of trying to come down with the ball, which would have been unlikely with all of Shawnee Heights’ defenders crashing down, Buchman instead one-hand tips it back outside to her teammate. That play will not show up in the box score, but it saved McPherson a possession which it went on to score in. Little plays like that add up. Buchman makes several of them every game and that’s why she’s one of the best.

12:24 pm — Shawnee Heights with a clinic right there on how to crack a press. They got the ball to the middle hit the runner streaking down the sideline and executed the perfect 2-on-1 break with a quick pass across the block for the easy lay-in. McPherson will have to live with that. So far the Bullpups are forcing turnovers — Heights now has 10 — more than it’s getting burned, so I don’t expect Strathman to back out of it.

12:19 pm — Shawnee Heights re-takes the lead at 14-13 with 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter on a pair of free throws. McPherson is just struggling to make shots right now. The Bullpups are 6 of 17, but just as I say that Katelyn Loecker converts down low and gives McPherson the lead back at 15-14. Good back-and-forth match-up right now between these two teams.

12:17 pm — A key development in the first half: Shawnee Heights reaches the 1-and-1′s with 6:37 left in the 2nd quarter. Let’s see if the Thunderbirds can take advantage by getting to the line. I’m not sure it would matter, though. Shawnee Heights is shooting 4 of 10 from the free throw line so far. McPherson clings to a 13-12 lead with 5:30 left in the 2nd quarter.

12:13 pm — McPherson’s defense is causing Shawnee Heights fits right now. The Thunderbirds haven’t handled it very well, and the Bullpups have realized that and are turning it up a notch. Shawnee Heights committed 8 turnovers that first quarter, so it’s actually fairly impressive that they’re only down 13-10 after the first quarter. Shawnee Heights’ Cierra Ceazer already has 9 points, another notable statistic.

12:08 pm — Shawnee Heights’ Sheylon Ryce gets away with a carrying call right in front of McPherson’s bench. The very next dribble goes off her foot. As Rasheed Wallace would say, ball don’t lie. McPherson clinging to 11-8 lead.

12:04 pm — McPherson comes roaring back, taking its first lead of the game on a Tanner Hein three-pointer. But it turns out to be a part of a larger 7-0 run for the Bullpups, which forces Shawnee Heights to call timeout with three minutes left in the 1st quarter and McPherson the new owners of a 9-6 lead.

12:01 pm — We got off to an early start here in Topeka and we’ve already played three minutes of this third-place girls game between McPherson and Shawnee Heights. I think in a game like this, that obviously nobody wants to play in, it’s important to get off to a good start to feel good about yourself. Shawnee Heights has done so, starting the quarter off with a 6-2 lead over McPherson.

8:00 a.m. — I thought it would be considerate of the readers to provide an adequate preview of today’s championship games. I did a little extra talking to some of the players and coaches yesterday to help me out, so be sure to check out the previews after the jump below.

Girls: St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Blue Valley

The favorite going into this game has to be Aquinas, which has a perfect 24-0 record and owns two convincing victories over Blue Valley already this season. It’s always tough to beat a good team three times in one season, but the Saints are certainly capable of doing it. They have the best player in the tournament in senior guard DaShawn Harden, who is just a good basketball player, period. She has superb instincts, which leads to a lot of plays that other players could never make. But don’t discount Blue Valley, which is playing its best basketball of the season. “I think on the outside looking in, we would probably have to be underdogs,” Blue Valley coach Andrew Unrein said. “But the kids do not think they are underdogs. I don’t think they think they are better than anyone else, but I don’t think they’re exactly lucky to be here.” The Tigers have a much more balanced attack, which can be a huge boost in games like their first two in which the team is knocking down shots. But if the offense gets scarce, those games always favor the best players and that advantage has to go to Aquinas.

My prediction: I think Blue Valley will keep the score close in the first half, but I like Harden and the Saints to run away in the second half. My pick is St. Thomas Aquinas 52, Blue Valley 39.

Boys: McPherson vs. KC Washington

This is the match-up that everyone wanted to see when the brackets were released. This was the same match-up in last year’s state tournament, a game in which McPherson dominated in a 26-point win that KC Washington coach Eric King said “put the fear of God in us.” Both teams love bring pressure in an up-tempo game. Each have had to play their way through opponents wanting to slow them down. Now they’ll finally get the opportunity to release all their energy in what should be a high-tempo, high-scoring game that really brings out the best in both teams. Obviously McPherson begins with the combination of Jack Pyle and Christian Ulsaker. How Washington decides to guard those two will be critical to its success. Pyle thrives on receiving the ball on cuts to the middle and taking it to the basket. He actually reminds me some of KC Washington’s Tra’Vaughn White, who rarely takes an outside shot because he is so adept at getting to the basket. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if those two shoot over 10 free throws apiece this game. Those three players – Pyle, Ulsaker, White – are going to be the ones to watch for in this game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see each of them score over 20 points and even two of them push past 30. But each team is much more than just their stars. The Bullpups have a nice supporting cast in Cory Horton, Jordan Hart, Travell Robinson and Parker Hambley. They do just enough offensively to relieve some pressure off Pyle and Ulsaker and can defend above-average on defense. KC Washington also has some nice players in Jervon Hooks, Myles Hibler and Rakim McCoy. Like I said, each team likes to play fast, in-your-face and up-and-down, so it’s hard to say which attack it favors. Washington has scored over 70 points 16 times this season, while McPherson has done so 13 times. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this game’s pace play out much like McPherson’s 81-73 loss to Wichita Heights earlier this season. But now let’s get to what some of the coaches and players are saying about this game.

As I put in my game story in today’s paper, KC Washington coach Eric King was a little brash after his team’s semifinal victory. He told a group of huddled reporters loudly that his team “was gonna shock the world!” tomorrow. He later toned it down a little bit when I talked to him, rephrasing it to “If we bring our A-game and our play our best, then we can shock the world.” But this Washington team is a confident one. King has confidence his team can go toe-to-toe with McPherson’s pressure and even apply some of their own on the Bullpups. “We’re probably going to try to trap them and get after them, but we’ll also zone it up and slow it down some,” King said. “It’s going to be a war, for real.” King went on to say all the pressure is on McPherson, which is pretty true. The Bullpups will be playing in front of dozens of past players here in Topeka to commemorate the 100th anniversary of state championships in Kansas. McPherson will be playing for title No. 11 and it will have a little extra meaning, being that it’s coming in the 100th state title game. McPherson coach Kurt Kinnamon said: “It’s a pretty neat thing. I’ve heard from former players that are going to be here. Their comment was all the same: “We want to see you in the finals, coach.’ It means a lot to me to make this game.” But Kinnamon knows he will have his hands full with Washington, a revamped team from the one they defeated with ease last season. “Their style is a little more suited to ours,” Kinnamon said. “But we can’t just let them run up and down and shoot lay-ups the whole game. We have to make our pressure work for us. My guess is that nobody has tried to pressure them yet, so we’ll do that tomorrow. Sometimes our pressure is good enough and sometimes it’s not. Tomorrow night, I’m hoping it’s good enough.” The players say after going toe-to-toe with Wichita Heights earlier this season, they have a confidence that can’t be shaken. “We feel like if we can handle Heights’ pressure the way we did, then I don’t know any other team that can run with us,” Christian Ulsaker said. There’s a lot on the line for both. For McPherson, it’s about adding to its storied tradition. For Washington, it’s establishing some. “I’m sure it would mean more to us if we won than to them,” Washington’s White said. Depends on who you ask, I guess.

My prediction: There will be a lot of possessions in this game, so early deficits and leads won’t mean much. Each team is used to playing that style, so I don’t think it favors either one. I just think the aura of the state title game suits McPherson better, and Ulsaker and Pyle will have big games. My guess is a run-and-gun game through the first three quarters, but it comes to a halt in the fourth as both teams look to play possession-by-possession. In the end, McPherson will be too much. My pick is McPherson 76, KC Washington 67.