COLUMBIA, Mo. – Park Hill South never saw the task as impossible.
When the clock hit 0.0 on Friday evening, the rest of the people inside Mizzou Arena believed in the Panthers as well. Park Hill South battled back from an 11-point halftime to deficit to score a 53-50 upset and shock Chaminade – Class 5's No. 1 team according to the latest Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll.
“I began to think we could do this last week,” said Park Hill South senior guard James Byrd, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “We've been confident about this game all week. We knew they were just a team. They had to play basketball just like us. They gotta show up.”
Park Hill South (26-3) became the first Missouri team this season to beat Chaminade, the St. Louis powerhouse featuring a pair of top level 2017 recruits -- Tyler Cook and Jayson Tatum, the top-ranked junior in the entire country.
Byrd kept Park Hill South afloat early, and junior forward Ryan Welty scored 14 of his 16 points. Add in a clutch 3-pointer from sophomore guard Jacob Kline and strong free throw shooting, and the Panthers advanced to the second state title game appearance in program history -- first since placing second in Class 3A back in 2000.
Now on a 15-game winning streak, Park Hill South draws a matchup with Blue Springs South in Saturday's championship. Kevin Puryear, a University of Missouri recruit, leads the Jaguars.
Not many would have placed a supposedly transitioning Park Hill South in this place prior to the start of the season. The Panthers didn't even reach the playoffs last season after suffering an upset loss to Park Hill in the Class 5 District 16 title game.
“I don't think we were ranked anywhere," first-year Park Hill South coach Dan Parra said. "I think it fueled us. All year we talked about it. We just go about our business. There's not one guy on this team that stands out over another. One night it's Ryan; one night it's James. It's Allen; it's Mitch (Henderson). We have a tremendous senior class. We have eight seniors on the team. Three don't even play hardly, and they're the biggest leaders on the team.
“We lost so much from last year that nobody talked about us at the beginning of the year."
The usual stars helped Park Hill South carry through its unlikely upset bid.
With 19 points in the third quarter, the Panthers doubled their first-half output and started to put a scare into Chaminade (25-4). Park Hill South closed the frame on a 15-3 run, capped with a bucket from Hyatt off of a turnover at the buzzer to draw within 39-38.
Chaminade led by as many as 13 on two different occasions in the third quarter, but Welty scored seven -- including two 3-pointers -- to spark the Panthers.
“My teammates and coaches they were positive about it,” Welty said of his first half struggles. “They told me to keep shooting and I did. I knocked down a few so that got the team going there.”
Welty missed a potential tying 3 from the corner in the waning seconds of the third quarter, but Tatum, who finished with a game-high 17 points, dropped the ball while turning up court with the rebound. Hyatt collected the ball and made a floater at the buzzer to close the Red Devils' lead to 39-38.
“You saw our bench erupt out of there, when he hit that," Parra said. "Allen, just presence of mind, took a shot. We had some time left. Our bench just erupted.”
Chaminade was officially rattled with Tatum unable to hit a field goal in the second half, going 0-for-5 to finish 3-for-12 overall.
After a Tatum free throw opened the fourth quarter scoring with 5:03 to play, Welty immediately answered with a jumper to the score for the first time since midway through the first quarter.
Park Hill South took its first lead since the opening possession of the game on the next trip with Welty knocking down three free throws after drawing a foul while attempting a corner 3 to answer a dunk from Cook (15 points). The Panthers trailed once more after allowing a quick four unanswered, the second two on a pair of Tatum free throws.
Kline, inserted into the starting lineup in January, hit his second 3 with 1:23 to go for the final lead change.
“We talk a lot about penetrating and kicking out to a shooter,” Parra said. “We have really good shooters on the team. It just so happened it was Jacob in the corner. It could have been Mitch or could have been James or Ryan. For a sophomore, Jacob has taken real big shots for us this year.”
Park Hill South went 11-for-13 on free throws in the second half, including 10 of 11 in the fourth quarter. Kline hit the final two with 8.1 seconds to go to cap an eight-point showing and put the Panthers up 53-48.
Chaminade's final layup at the other end didn't matter
The final result would have been unlikely without Byrd's early performance. The mercurial senior point guard hit all three of his 3-pointers in the first quarter and trimmed Chaminade's lead to 11-10 with the last one. However, the Red Devils were dominant in the second quarter, building its 11-point lead at the break and putting themselves in position to return to the title game for the first time since winning the 2010 crown.
Instead, Park Hill South's record-setting group put themselves in position to make history, even if the task involves another upset bid.