INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Ryan Welty ended up watching most of the fourth quarter of his final game at Park Hill South on the bench.
The second-leading scorer in program history picked up his fourth foul with 6 minutes, 59 seconds to play. Liberty North took full advantage of Welty’s time on the bench turning a deficit into a lead that survived until the final horn of a Class 5 sectional matchup at Silverstein Eye Care Arena.
Liberty North held on for a 57-56 win, ending an accomplished career for Welty and the fellow seniors.
“We knew coming into the fourth they were going to come at us hard,” Park Hill South coach Dan Parra said. “Whenever they’re down they’re not going to get rattled. The idea was hopefully Ryan wasn’t in foul trouble, and we could run some time off. We got hurried a little bit. When Ryan goes out, he has a tendency to calm things down.
“We didn’t have Ryan in there in the fourth when they made their run. When we got him back in the game it was kind of too late.”
Park Hill South led 41-38 entering the final 8 minutes, eyeing a second straight playoff run despite a mostly retooled roster.
The result ended up being similar to Liberty North’s triple-overtime win in the first matchup between the two teams this season, which came back in December during the Eagles’ home tournament. With Welty out, Liberty North went on an 8-0 run to go up by six points.
Park Hill South junior Jacob Kline — the only other returning starter from last year’s Class 5 state runner-up — hit a layup over Liberty North standout senior forward Michael Hughes (game-high 27 points, 10 in the fourth quarter) to cut the deficit to two points with 45 seconds left. Kline’s steal then left 27.1 seconds for the Panthers to force another overtime game.
A tear-drop jumper from freshman guard Lamel Robinson in the lane hit back iron and Hughes extended the lead back to four with a pair of free throws on the other end. After the teams exchanged 1-for-2 trips at the free throw line, Robinson hit a 28-foot 3-point shot at the buzzer that ultimately didn’t matter.
“Honestly, it’s all just a blur right now” Welty said. “They just started hitting shots, and we couldn’t get anything going on offense. It was rough. I wanted to be in the game helping my teammates. Sometime it just doesn’t go your way.”
Robinson finished with a team-high 22 points with the late triple and broke out as a freshman to provide a consistent second scoring threat with Welty receiving much of opposing teams’ attention down the stretch. Park Hill South started Suburban Conference Red Division play with a 1-4 record before winning seven straight games to close with a 6-4 league record and then capture a second straight district title.
The lost to Liberty North put Park Hill South’s final record at 16-11.
“One time we were really struggling and we were just looking to get some consistency,” Parra said. “The kids really bought in. I told them in the locker room I couldn’t be more proud of them. It was them that turned the season around, not us. They were really good for us at the end. They kept fighting and kept listening to us, and it clicked and we end up winning seven in a row.”
Last season, a senior-driven roster led Park Hill South to a memorable finish.
The Panthers rolled to the state semifinals and scored a shocking upset of No. 1-ranked Chaminade, back in the Show-Me Showdown this year with its crop of Division I-bound talents. Blue Springs South went on to win the title.
Welty scored 19 points in the win against Chaminade on his way to all-state honors. He became the focal point for Park Hill South this season, which ended up relying on Robinson and fellow freshman Desi Williams to pick up scoring slack left from the graduated players.
Just the third player in program history to reach 1,000 points for his career, Welty finished with 1,215, the second leading scorer in Panthers history behind Ivo Baltic — who went on to play at the University of Ohio after totaling 1,675 in his career.