COLUMBIA, Mo. — Park Hill South ended up settling for consolation.
Playing in a state title game for the second time in school history, the Panthers were unable to finish off a mostly unexpected run. Blue Springs South captured the Class 5 state championship with a 71-57 victory Saturday, March 21 at Mizzou Arena in a quirky matchup of Kansas City area schools.
Park Hill South’s 15-game winning streak came to a close, and the Panthers took home another second-place trophy, first since finishing as runner-up in Class 3A 15 years earlier. They did set a school record for wins with a 26-4 final record, topping the mark of 21 set in 2000, to go along with a Suburban Conference Red Division title — the first unblemished crown in program history.
Not a bad haul for a team with a new coach expected to take the brunt of significant losses from last year’s District 16 runner-up. Park Hill South didn’t crack many polls early and were No. 8 in Class 5 according to the final Missouri Basketball Coaches Association poll of the regular season.
“I knew we had the talent to be really good,” first-year Park Hill South coach Dan Parra said. “I didn’t know the kids’ makeup. I didn’t know how much they were committed to all of this. The kids, this is their year. They did a great job to buying in to what we did. You win 26 games, it’s not really coaching; it’s these kids busting their butts every day in practice and in the offseason. We wanted to change Park Hill South, the perception of it. We wanted to get to places it’s never been before.
“To finish second in the biggest class in the state of Missouri when no one thought we would do anything is a huge accomplishment. They’ll look back on this and go, ‘Wow. We were really 26—4.’ Right now it sucks being so close, But one day they’ll look back and go, ‘What a year.’”
Coming off a monumental upset of top-ranked Chaminade and the Red Devils’ two top-tier Division I prospects, Park Hill South never led and went down 10-0 just 3 minutes, 8 seconds into the first quarter.
Blue Springs South led by double digits much of the second half, and the Panthers’ deficit reached 17 late in the fourth quarter despite Kevin Puryear and Brandon Kilgore — the Jaguars’ top two scorers — fouling out. Kilgore’s fourth and fifth fouls came on the same play with 4:27 to go and offered the Panthers a final lifeline.
Park Hill South sophomore guard Jacob Kline corralled a long rebound and his feet tangled up with Kilgore. Officials whistled a foul on Kilgore, but the two did not separate cleanly. A technical foul on Kilgore followed, sending him to the bench with his team-high 23 points.
Kline knocked down both free throws from the initial foul and junior Ryan Welty knocked down both technical shots, as well, to close the Panthers within 57-50.
“I felt like after technical we hit the four free throws and the ball came back to us,” said Park Hill South senior guard Mitch Henderson, who finished with four points. “I thought it might be a little spark for us. We just weren’t able to get any stops and that really hurt us.”
Park Hill South senior James Byrd — game—high 26 points on 9-for-27 shooting from the field — banked in a jumper from the right elbow to pull the Panthers within 57—52 on the following possession. Blue Springs South never allowed the difference back to one possession, and the Jaguars salted away their first state title from the free throw line.
This marked the first Class 5 title game in Missouri history between two KC schools and the first in the state’s largest classification since Raytown South beat Kansas City Central for the 4A crown in 1977.
“I thought Blue Springs South played one heck of a game,” Parra said. “They made shots, they beat us pretty much up and down the court. They out-rebounded us. They got to loose balls. They were pretty tough overall. Their physicality was tough on us. We didn’t respond real well.”
Welty — Park Hill South’s leading scorer at more than 16 points per game entering the championship matchup — scored just seven points and didn’t attempt a shot in the first half, finishing 2-for-5 overall and 1-for-4 on 3-pointers.
That left Byrd to take a lot of shots in an effort to keep pace with Blue Springs South.
Completing a solid Show-Me Showdown weekend, Byrd opened Park Hill South’s scoring with the first of his five 3s and accounted for 11 of the Panthers’ 13 points in the first quarter. He scored 18 in the first quarter, nearly allowing the Panthers to enter halftime with momentum.
Blue Springs South beat the buzzer twice to stifle Park Hill South’s efforts.
Kline hit a free throw to draw the Panthers within 3 with 9 seconds left in the second quarter, but Marcus Meyer grabbed an offensive rebound off a Puryear miss on the ensuing possession and scored a putback to make it 30-25 in favor of the Jaguars at halftime.
KJ Robinson beat the third quarter buzzer on a 3—pointer for Blue Springs South, answering Panthers reserve senior guard Easton Fortuna’s first triple on the other end to make it 45-33 Jaguars entering the fourth quarter. Fortuna, part of Park Hill South’s eight-man senior class fouled out finished with nine points on three second-half triples.
“It never felt like we were out of the game” Parra said, “even down double digits early in the first half and down double digits at the start of the second half. It seemed like knowing our characteristics we would have a run in us. We’ve played 30 games, and we always made a run. But, our runs always started on the defensive end. We just never got stops when we needed them defensively.”
Puryear, a University of Missouri signee, came in averaging 20.9 points per game but fouled out with 15 on another contentious exchange with Kline at the 2:03 mark.
The officials ruled an offensive foul on an elbow, but the offense was not deemed flagrant. Welty missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and Blue Springs South scored the next six points at the free-throw line to go up 69-52. Overall, the Jaguars were 26-for-32 on free throws, more than enough to counter nine 3s from Park Hill South and dash the Panthers’ hopes of a second straight upset and a dream state championship.
“We’ve had a great year,” said Park Hill South senior forward Allen Hyatt, who fouled out with 6:46 to play with eight points. “Coach Parra’s first year and he did an awesome job. We changed Park Hill South basketball. We changed the mentality of it. We just came up a little bit short tonight. That’s all.”