Sports Editor Peter Holland Jr.
The championship round is set in the 56th annual McPherson Invitational. By the end of the tournament, a team will be crowned as MIT Champs. Top-seed Bishop Carroll will face Lawrence Free State in the finals. Derby and Blue Valley will battle for third, McPherson High School will face Junction City High School for fifth and Topeka-Seaman and Wichita North will battle for seventh.
No. 7 Topeka-Seaman vs. No. 8 Wichita North 1:30 p.m.
It’s not easy to be a winless team, and one will leave the tournament with their first win of the year. Topeka Seaman and Wichita North made their case. Wichita North is coming off 67-48 loss to McPherson on Friday night. Talent-wise, it has been a mismatch, having to face Bishop Carroll in the first round and McPherson next. The Redskins kept battling with nothing to lose and more to gain. Emmanuel Gonzalez has been the top scorer for the Redskins. Both games he recorded 13 points.
As for Seaman, it was at one point it looked like the Vikings were going to face the Bullpups for fifth place, outscoring Junction City by 20 points, but a second-half breakdown forced overtime and the Vikings couldn’t finish the job. With a disappointing loss overtime loss, it’s unsure if the Vikings might have one more game left in them. Kaeden Bonne has been Topeka’s top scorer, averaging 15.5 points in this tournament.
No. 5 McPherson vs. No. 6 Junction City at 3:15 p.m.
Losing to Blue Valley in the first round was a heart breaker for the Bullpups, but they bounced back by beating Wichita North. Now McPherson is one win away from placing fifth in the tournament. On paper, the Bullpups look like the better team, but Junction City will not be a walk in the park. The Blue Jays, assuming they have one more game left in the tank, is fresh off an overtime win over Topeka-Seaman after overcoming a 20-point deficit.
Even in Friday’s loss to Lawrence Free State, the Blue Jays gave the Firebirds a hard time in the first half despite being a nonfactor in the second. On Friday, it was the other way around. Chaz Ruffin had a big night as he led the Blue Jays with 19 points, shooting 6 for 11 from the field. Terrance Tedder and Qua’vez Humphreys are also capable of putting double figures for Junction City.
McPherson’s Head Coach Kurt Kinnamon went deep to his bench in their win over Wichita North. As a result, the Bullpups scored 40 bench points total. Eli Pyle went on a shooting spree, knocking six three-pointers and set a career-high 23 points. If the Bullpups win, they will improve to 8-4.
No. 2 Derby vs. No. 5 Blue Valley at 5 p.m.
When Derby and Blue Valley are on a hot shooting spree, there’s no stopping either of one of them, but if one of them is cold, it might be trouble.
Derby shot 56 percent from the field in the first half but 25 percent in the second half. The Panthers were outscored by Lawrence Free State 36-16 in the second half and it led to 67-51 loss in the result. Amari Thomas was the only Panther that reached double figures.
While Blue Valley looked impressive against McPherson, the Tigers had too much to handle against Bishop Carroll on Friday. Blue Valley, being streaky shooter, made six of its 26 three-pointers against Bishop Carroll. Mile Blandi, who led Blue Valley with 16 points, shot 50 percent from behind the arc. Blue Valley’s sophomore superstar only scored six points as he shut down defensively.
There’s no question that both Derby and Blue Valley are worthy to finish in the top three in the tournament. However, it will come down to which team has better shooters. They both will need their top players to be at their best.
No. 1 Bishop Carroll vs. No.3 Lawrence Free State at 7 p.m.
Defense will be the key in this heavyweight bout between Bishop Carroll and Lawrence Free State.
Bishop Carroll is superior and some could easily say that the Golden Eagles eased their way to the tournament by outscoring their opponents 145-89. The Golden Eagles are a balance that has at least four players that can score in double figures. Alex Littlejohn and Tanner Mans will be tough to guard, but their Enrique Lankford could be the x-factor for Bishop Carroll.
The Firebirds have been challenged, and they earned their way to the finals, but they must be more aggressive on defense if they want to take down the Golden Eagles. Free State, a team that looks like a second-half team, shut down Panthers defensively by only allowing 16 points, while they put up 36. D.K. Middleton led the Firebirds with a double-double performance as recorded 22 points and 10 rebounds in their win over Derby. Middleton can’t win it by himself. He’s going need either Andrew Piper Olin Yoder or Mile Branch have to put up at least 15 points against Carroll.
If the Firebirds pull off the upset, it will be their MIT tile since 2014. While for Bishop Carroll, it will be its first tournament win in program history. It is a matchup that is worth watching.