Buhler High’s Josie Williams battled McPherson High standout Katelyn Loecker to a stalemate in Thursday’s Class 4A basketball substate.
But the Crusaders had no defensive answer for the Bullpups’ trio of 3-point shooters. Hailey Ruder, Tanner Hein and Abby Pedersen combined for five 3-pointers to spark McPherson past Buhler 55-35. Loecker scored a game high 18 points, one point more than Williams.
Loecker, a junior who is orally committed to Oklahoma State University, showed off her offensive skills by scoring easily off perfect passes and she knocked down several outside jumpers.
“Our guards do a great job finding Katelyn in scoring position and we really like to play inside out,” said McPherson coach Chris Strathman. “Katelyn draws a lot of defensive attention.”
The Bullpups shot blanks from the field in a 1-for-11 start. Pedersen knocked down the Bullpups’ first 3-pointer for a 7-5 lead that McPherson never lost. McPherson closed the half with a 8-2 run fueled by 3-pointers by Ruder and Hein for a 27-19 lead. Ruder scored 11 points and Pedersen added 10 points.
“Hitting those outside shots is huge for us,” Strathman said. “Our offensive balance and our unselfish play is the key to our team. Katelyn Loecker is the best passing post I’ve ever coached. She’s got a great feel for the game.”
Top-seeded McPherson (21-1) will play Hesston (17-5) in Saturday’s 4A substate championship. The Bullpup girls have qualified for the state tournament the past two years years under Strathman. Qualifying for state is a tradition for the Bullpups.
“We’ve got an expectation that we’ll qualify for the state tournament,” Strathman said. “But nothing came easy tonight. We knew we’d get Buhler’s best shot and that’s what we got. Our girls kept their poise.”
Buhler (13-9) kept pace with the Bullpups until right before halftime behind Williams’ inspired play. She accounted for the Crusaders first 11 points with eight points and an assist to Kim Patterson for a 3-pointer. Patterson and Bridget Winter did a solid job breaking McPherson’s man-to-man pressure defense most of the night.
“That was Josie’s best game of the season and I was really proud of her,” said Buhler coach Brennan Torgeson. “I couldn’t be prouder of the girls. We played with great effort and intensity. We played really good defense, played tough inside and gave it everything we could.”
Despite 11 first-half turnovers, Buhler was within 19-17, but the Crusaders finished the half missing four free throws. McPherson made 11 of 30 first-half field goals to lead by eight points.
McPherson never lost control after halftime. The Bullpups’ aggressive man-to-man defense forced 20 Buhler turnovers. Loecker scored seven second-half points and dished to Hein for a 3-pointer.
“We never got into an offensive rhythm,” Torgeson said. “McPherson is an awfully difficult team to defend because of their outside shooting. They made some big shots that stretched their lead out.”
McPherson outscored Buhler in all four quarters.
“We stayed aggressive and stayed with our game plan,” Strathman said. “It doesn’t matter to us whether we get the job done inside or outside. We showed good patience. The girls did a nice job taking the shot when it was there.”