The Panthers again found an answer and pulled away late to beat Rockhurst 59-49 in a Class 5 quarterfinal matchup Saturday, March 14 at Liberty North High School. Park Hill South senior guard James Byrd and Park Hill South junior and leading scorer Ryan Welty combined to hit six straight free throws in the final minute, continuing the current winning streak (14) and sending the program to its first Show-Me Showdown since 2010 and third overall.
“It’s a lot of relief.” Parra said. “We worked so hard to get to this point. The kids, you could just see a big sigh afterward. We’re 24-3, and to come out and play the way we did, we were a little excited and missed some shots we’d normally make. Second half, we settled down, and they went on a run. We answered it well again.”
Park Hill South improved to 25-3 entering the program’s third-ever semifinal. The Panthers will play Chaminade (24-3) at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, March 20 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo. The Red Devils have a 15-game winning streak with the three losses this season to out-of-state competition — St. Rita’s (Chicago), Bentonville (Ark.) and DeMatha (Md.).
Jayson Tatum — a 6-foot-8 junior and the No. 1 recruit in the country for 2016 according to multiple rankings — leads Chaminade into its first semifinal appearance since winning the Class 5 title in 2009.
“We just have to keep working hard,” Welty said. “We’re not satisfied.”
A burgeoning recruit himself, Welty again played a big part in putting Park Hill South in position to add to its state trophy collection (fourth place Class 5 in 2010 and second place Class 3A in 2000).
With the Panthers up 23-19 at halftime, they hit seven straight 3-point attempts during the second half before missing one in the fourth quarter. Welty started the barrage of long balls with back-to-back 3s to put Rockhurst down 29-20 with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter — two of his game-high five treys on the way to 19 points.
“I came out and I got open after some great passes from my teammates,” Welty said. “I knocked down two shots in a row. After that, I was feeling pretty good, so I kept shooting and they kept going down. We got out to a big lead there. Shooters, once you knock down one or two, they think down more and more and more. Keep shooting if we’re open; that’s what we do.”
Byrd struggled with foul trouble but still scored 15 points. He picked up his fourth personal at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter and sat until the same point of the fourth quarter.
The absence at point guard opened the door for the Hawklets (16-12).
Park Hill South turned the ball over 11 times in the second half, helping fuel an 11-0 run for Rockhurst that tied the score at 40 with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I thought we were going to take it away when we hit all of those 3s,” Byrd said. “But then they kept stopping it. It was so scary. I was like ‘Coach, let me get in. Let me get in.’ He was like, ‘We have to wait ’til the fourth quarter.’ I didn’t want to wait, but I had to wait it out. We held the lead (entering the fourth quarter) so that’s all that mattered.”
Park Hill South senior Mitch Henderson knocked down a pair of free throws with 4.1 seconds on the clock in the third quarter to give the Panthers the lead for good. Byrd came back in to score nine points in the final 6-plus minutes, including a 4-for-4 showing at the line in the final 32.2 seconds after Rockhurst cut the lead to 53-49.
Park Hill South went 12-for-14 from the line overall and 11 of 18 on 3-point tries.
“We were just trying to keep the lead,” Byrd said. “Coach didn’t want me to pick up my fifth foul. I was playing defense really weak. I played good enough so that the guy didn’t score. Then I had to hit a couple of big shots and big free throws.”
Park Hill South senior forward Allen Hyatt scored the Panthers’ first six points and helped put Rockhurst down 9-8 after the first quarter. His production diminished after an defensive adjustment saw the Hawklets put more focus on the lane, which opened the perimeter.
Hyatt finished with six points, while senior reserve guard Easton Fortuna knocked down two 3s to account for his six points. Byrd hit three 3s.
“I was getting the ball and getting some easy shots,” Hyatt said. “I tried to take the ball to the basket. I feel like it opened up the outside a little bit. It got packed in the middle. We kicked it out to our good shooters. We hit a lot of 3s. We have real good shooters on our team.”
Park Hill South 54, Liberty North 49
Byrd stood at the free throw line with 20 seconds on the clock after missing the front end of a one-and-one during the Panthers’ Class 5 sectional win Wednesday, March 11 at Excelsior Springs High School in Excelsior Springs, Mo. With Park Hill South clinging to a 51-49 lead, Hyatt corralled a key offensive rebound of the miss and sent a pass back out to Byrd, who drew another foul.
“It was super nerve-racking,” Hyatt said. “I was just glad we came out with the W. It landed in the right spot. It came right to me. I was trying not to foul out. I had four fouls. I just grabbed it and got it back to James. He hit some clutch free throws.”
In one of the quirks of the late-game situation, the clock did not start on Byrd’s miss leading to a lengthy delay to adjust the time. Byrd spent the break thinking about his upcoming chances to seal the win.
Byrd made both, and Liberty North didn’t score again, falling short of its upset bid.
“I knew what I did wrong,” Byrd said of the previous miss. “I wasn’t necessarily nervous. I’m used to the crowd yelling in my ear like that. I just shot it flat. Once I got some time to recoup, get a little air in my lungs, it was a good free throw. I knew it. First I thought they were trying to freeze me, but then I knew that they really can’t. I can shoot free throws. We practice it all the time. It’s nothing. I just have to make them.”
Byrd finished with a game-high 24 points, including 10 in a pivotal and tense fourth quarter.
Park Hill South took a 33-23 lead into halftime, and the advantage swelled to 38-25 midway through the quarter. The Eagles responded with a 15-0 run and took a brief lead early in the fourth quarter.
Byrd’s offense rejuvenated Park Hill South, helping send the Panthers into the quarterfinal matchup with Rockhurst.
“A lot of it was on us,” Parra said. “We were playing a little selfish on the offensive end. We quit setting picks. We quit running our offense. We weren’t getting stops on the other end. They were getting good looks. They ran their offense pretty good.”
Welty scored eight points, while Henderson and Hyatt added seven apiece. Jacob Kline, a sophomore guard, pitched in six while Akoi scored the only two bench points.