By MIKE KESSINGER
In the final quarter of what would be its final game, the Hays High School boys’ basketball team chased McPherson around the court.
The No. 1 ranked team in Class 4A Division I, the Bullpups ran a stall offense through the fourth quarter, just as a precaution to hold their lead they had gained early in the game.
Hays High could do nothing but hope for some kind of miracle that never came before the clock ran out in the sub-state championship game at the HHS gym, and McPherson won 57-46 Saturday. The loss ends a two-year state tournament run for the Indians.
"I thought in the second half we did a better job of going at them," Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. "In the first half we kind of avoided contact and they were just picking us clean. You have to give McPherson credit, they're going to make you pay if you make a mistake."
The Indians (14-8) took a 3-0 and 6-3 lead in the opening minutes on a pair of 3-pointers by juniors Isaiah Nunnery and Keith Dryden. From there, McPherson took charge. A lot of its force came from senior Manhattan High transfer Payton Stephens. The 6-foot-4 forward was dominant at finishing when McPherson was able to get into a fast break in its transition offense. In the first half he had five field goals, most of them when the Bullpups were running.
Hays High didn't help itself by turning the ball over nine times in the first quarter, then had 14 by halftime when its deficit had grown to 13.
"We've seen good teams, but they get out on the ball really well," HHS senior Brady Werth said. "They deflect passes. They get quick transition. Easy buckets on the other end. They didn't get a whole lot of them, but we don't see as much of that."
The Indians fell behind by as much as 17 in the third quarter, and we're able to cut it back to 45-33 heading into the final eight minute stretch. Hays High just wasn't able to get within a single-digit deficit after that.
Werth, Hays High's 6-foot-7 forward, who played his final high school game — and is the progam's all-time leading scorer and rebounder — will continue to play basketball next season. He has signed with Fort Hays State University. The sub-state match-up with McPherson put Werth up against another FHSU signee in point guard Kyler Kinnamon, the son of the Bullpups' head coach Kurt Kinnamon. The two play together in the summer in AAU, along with Stephens.
"Kyler and I talk quite a bit because he's coming to Fort Hays," Werth said. "I mean, it's kind of hard during basketball and stuff with school, but we keep in touch."
Nunnery was Hays High's leading scorer, finishing with 16 points. Werth dropped in 10 points and grabbed five rebounds while playing in foul trouble most of the game. The Indians hit nine 3-pointers with Nunnery and Dryden having three apiece.
Drew Pyle led McPherson with 17 points, Stephens had 15 and Kinnamon added 12.
"Stephens was a good thing to have him transfer from Manhattan, he's helped them a lot," Keltner said. "(McPherson) was the better team tonight, obviously."