LIBERTY, Mo. — Park Hill south weathered an early barrage of energy and emotion from a motivated opponent on Friday, Feb. 27 at Liberty High School.
Playing in the final game ever at Liberty’s Cokely Fieldhouse, the hosts took an early lead with a quick run in the first quarter. The Panthers responded with the talent and experience to outweigh the added sentimental emotions on the way to a 70-44 win, completing the school’s first undefeated Suburban Conference title.
The top seed in this week’s Class 5 District 16 Tournament, Park Hill South has won 10 straight — all in Red Division play — since a loss to Raymore-Peculiar in the Northtown Classic championship game.
“I told them when I walked in there it was a goal of ours,” first-year Park Hill South coach Dan Parra said. “We set that goal way back when. I never thought we would be undefeated. That was never even talked about until someone (before the game) said, ‘If we win this one, we’re undefeated.’ We never even gave it a second thought. We wanted to win conference, but I told them in the locker room that’s a record that can never be broken.
“It can only be tied.”
In a night full of pageantry and memories, Liberty jumped out to 7-2 lead inside the first 2 minutes to send the student section, known as the Cokely Crazies, into a frenzy. Park Hill South’s senior-heavy team responded with a 12-2 run that gave the Panthers the lead for good.
“It was kind of tiring,” said Park Hill South senior James Byrd, who finished with 17 points including six in the first quarter. “Their crowd, their adrenaline, caught me real quick. Once I got my second wind, we started fighting, played good defense, and we took the lead. Second quarter we pushed them even more.”
Park Hill South junior Ryan Welty tallied a game-high 19 points in the win, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk on an assist from Byrd midway through the third quarter. Welty collected a steal and passed the ball up court to Byrd, who drew the defender in a two-on-one situation before lobbing the ball back to his 6-foot-7 teammate for the flush.
“I saw it opening up,” Parra said. “We practice the alley-oop a lot with (Teng Akooi, Ryan Welty and Allen Hyatt). I thought they were going to give it a shot. James had a great pass, and Ryan finished it well.”
Four players scored in double digits for Park Hill South.
Easton Fortuna finished with 14, including a buzzer-beating 3 from deep to end the first quarter that gave the Panthers a 19-13 lead. Byrd beat the buzzer at the end of the second quarter, going coast-to-coast in 4.4 seconds and finishing with a floating runner to push the lead to 36-24 at the break.
Allen Hyatt (14 points) rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Panthers in their regular-season finale. Park Hill South repeated as Red Division titles but won this year’s outright with the unblemished 10-record.
Last year, the Panthers shared the championship with Lee’s Summit West when both schools went 9-1. Lee’s Summit West advanced to the Gold Division prior to this season and Liberty swapped with the Titans to take the Red Division vacancy left.
Park Hill South (21-3) now focuses on returning the playoffs for the first time since making back-to-back trips in 2010 and 2011. The Panthers face host St. Joseph Central at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 5 in the first of two semifinals. The Indians were responsible for the closest game during Park Hill South’s Red Division title run — a 52-50 win in overtime for the Panthers on Feb. 17 in St. Joseph.
Last year, Park Hill South lost in the district championship to rival Park Hill. The Panthers won both regular-season meetings last season, as well, before seeing the Trojans end a nearly 20-year postseason drought with the upset.
The intra-district rivals own the top two seeds and could meet for a third time this year in the championship game, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, March 6.
“We have two or three guys back from last year,” Parra said. “Beating Park Hill twice and then losing the last one when it really counts, I think those guys are instrumental. All week they’ll be saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what happened in the games before. This is what matters now.’ Thursday’s first. We have to win Thursday.”
Park Hill South 76, Truman 50
The Panthers went for 33 points in the second quarter on Tuesday, Feb. 24 in the win that officially locked up the Red Division title.
Welty led a balanced Park Hill South attack with 20 points, and six players combined to hit nine total 3-pointers. Tied at 11 after the first quarter, Park Hill South went nuts in the next 8 minutes and were up 44-22 at the break.
Akoi also continued his stretch of solid play with 14 points off the bench, part of Park Hill South’s 32 points from reserves. Fortuna added another 11 from the second unit.
Park Hill 63, Truman 54
The Trojans concluded the regular season with a fourth straight win behind a big second half on Thursday, Feb. 26, their seventh victory in eight games.
Seeking a second straight playoff appearance, Park Hill (20-5) opens Class 5 District 16 play as the No. 2 seed with an opener against Staley (15-9) on Thursday, March 5 at St. Joseph Central High School. The two teams have not met this year, and the winner advances to the championship game the following night at 7 p.m.
Landry Shamet scored 25, and Louis Reinmiller added 19 in the regular-season finale, combining to hit all seven of Park Hill’s 3-pointers.
Truman led 23-16 at halftime but ceded 47 points in the second half, and the Trojans finished 8-2 in Red Division play — both losses to Park Hill South — and in sole possession of second place. Dru Smith added 11 points off the bench for Park Hill.
Park Hill 66, Ruskin 45
Shamet scored 20, Deionte Wilson 12 and Smith 11 in the Trojans’ blowout victory on Tuesday, Feb. 24. Ruskin scored just five points in the first quarter and didn’t recover. Shamet and Reinmiller, both seniors, hit a pair of 3-pointers apiece, and Park Hill pulled away despite shooting just 9 of 18 on free throws.