KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Lamel Robinson found himself in a familiar position on Friday, March 4 at Oak Park High School — a product of a learn-on-the-fly experiences for Park Hill South’s youthful and inexperienced roster this season.
A freshman guard, Robinson already had some big shots to his credit when he stepped to the free throw line for two critical shots in the Class 5 District 16 championship game. He knocked both down with 10 seconds left, finishing with 22 points while also finishing off Staley.
Park Hill South held off the feisty No. 4 seed for a 54-50 victory, earning a repeat trip to the playoffs despite losing three starters from last year’s state runner-up and eight seniors total.
“We just had to settle down and stay focused,” Robinson said. “It wasn’t like there was pressure. We knew we had it. I’m just glad we came together and depended on each other. We just kept fighting. We’ve been in big situations in big games. The fact we pulled through, we just played our game.”
Despite falling behind for a few seconds in the fourth quarter of the district title game, Park Hill South (16-10) came back to earn a sectional rematch with Liberty North. Tipoff of the opening round game is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 9 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Mo.
Park Hill South won both meetings between the two last season, first to claim the Liberty North Invitational and then to knock the Eagles out of the playoffs. Liberty North (24-3) won the regular season matchup this year, going to triple overtime to win its home tournament back in December.
A lot has changed since the first meeting this season.
Once a scoring threat off the bench, Park Hill South freshman guard Desi Williams became entrenched in the starting lineup along with Robinson. Williams scored 10 points against Staley, including a pair of free throws to give the Panthers a two possession lead with 24.2 seconds left.
Park Hill South forward Ryan Welty, an all-stater during last year’s run to the title game, remains the only senior starter during a quick rebuild for second-year coach Dan Parra.
“They just learned from their mistakes,” said Welty (12 points) of his less experienced teammates. “They have. At the beginning of the year, they weren’t too good, and they know that. Each game they’ve gotten better and better, and as you can see, Lamel and Desi played great tonight. They were a big part of our win.”
Park Hill South maintained a slim advantage throughout the game against Staley and trailed for just 12 seconds total.
Falcons senior forward Beau Baker gave them their first lead of the game with 1 minute, 11 seconds to play at 47-46, but Park Hill South scored the next four points on buckets by Robinson and Williams to once again gain the advantage. Staley entered off an upset of top-seeded Park Hill in a semifinal and were in position to score another unexpected win after staying within striking distance the entire way.
“That was the longest fourth quarter I can remember being a part of,” Parra said. “It was a really good game, and it could have gone either way. We just made a couple of free throws at the end, got a stop when we needed it and got the win.”
Park Hill South led 24-21 at halftime after a poor-shooting performance in the second quarter. The Panthers hit just three field goals after leading 18-11 after the first 8 minutes.
Robinson and junior guard Jacob Kline, Park Hill South’s other returning starter, scored seven each in the first quarter with most of the defensive attention on Welty, the Panthers leading scorer.
Last season, Welty played his best during the playoffs, helping lead Park Hill South to a shocking win against No. 1-ranked Chaminade in the state semifinals. This year, the Red Devils are again the top ranked team according to the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association but are on the other side of the bracket.
A Park Hill South win against Liberty North would mean a likely matchup with No. 2 Lee’s Summit, which sits at 27-0 entering the playoffs. Quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday, March 12 also at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“It’s one of those where I think we’re as good as anybody when we play well defensively,” Parra said. “We have to share the ball and do things right. We’re not overly talented, but we’re good enough.”