RIVERSIDE, Mo. — After two rivalry matchups in a span of three days, Park Hill and Park Hill South were left with a shutout apiece, a shared Suburban Conference Red Division title and the hint of what a playoff rematch could provide.
Park Hill South’s 1-0 victory Thursday, May 14 at Park Hill District Soccer Complex forced the split league crown and left Park Hill with a pair of worrisome injuries entering the postseason. After being shutout two days earlier in the first of two Red Division matchups, Park Hill South struck first on Shay Jackson’s marker in the 14th minute of Part II, and the lone goal held up thanks to goalkeeper Haley Mills’ shutout.
“Before we even started the game, we said we have got to come out early and get one because that’s what they did on us and that helped them win their game,” said Shay Jackson, the Panthers star senior forward signed to play at Florida Gulf Coast. “And so that’s what we were looking to do: get a goal and possess and hopefully more would come. Today, we only had one, but that was enough to get us through.”
Park Hill (16-6-3, 9-1 Red Division) dominated possession throughout the second matchup, leading to more chances than its top rival.
However, Park Hill South pounced on a giveaway from the Trojans’ in their defensive end to take the 1-0 lead. Kate Eischens, a spritely freshman midfielder, took a pass on the left wing before sending in a cross that found Jackson, who tucked her shot neatly past Park Hill goalkeeper Kelbey Emerson (three saves).
In the 21st minute, Jackson split a pair of defenders before firing just over the bar to conclude the Panthers’ best stretch in the attacking third.
Park Hill forced Mills into back-to-back saves in the 24th and 28th minutes, and sophomore central defender Jenna Winebrenner’s lengthy run through the middle set up Bella Catano with a chance in the 34th minute. Catano’s shot sailed high.
The purposeful attack turned out to be one of the last actions for Winebrenner, a returning all-state pick. She crumpled to the turf a few minutes later after jumping to play the ball in the middle of the field and required assistance to reach the sideline.
Winebrenner did not return, staying on the bench with ice on her left knee.
“She is a fantastic player, and she is a fantastic teammate,” Park Hill coach Brandt Bell said. “She does a lot to stand out, but she also makes her teammates a lot better. And when she goes down, it’s scary for everybody.
“As much as your heart sinks when you see somebody go down, the response by her teammates in the second half to really go all out and cover for her? It was awesome.”
Park Hill continued to win the possession battle in the second half minus Winebrenner, a versatile threat with seven goals and nine assists (3rd on the team in both categories this season) with freedom to roam about the pitch.
That continued even after freshman forward Alison Walls, the Trojans’ most dangerous player for most of the match, went down with a right knee injury with more than 20 minutes to play. She also didn’t return.
However, Park Hill South kept limited clear-cut chances.
Allie Simpson dragged a left-footed shot wide of the goal followed by another Mills save off of a harmless Catano shot around the 51st-minute mark. Rachel England’s attempt from an awkward angle on the right side of the box looked the most troublesome before fluttering past the far post with 8 minutes to play.
Catano’s curling right-footed effort on a free kick from 35 yards out provided the last glimmer of hope for an equalizer. Mills finished with five saves but faced significant pressure in the second half with the Panthers’ offense mostly going dormant.
“We weren’t connecting on any passes,” Park Hill South coach Joe Toigo said. “A good part of our defending is possessing the ball. That is due to a lot of them having high pressure, trying to win the ball, trying to really get back in, win the game, get that second goal to get it tied, and we never really got settled.”
Park Hill earned at least a share of the league title on Tuesday, May 12 after midfielder Sam Paulak went on the scoresheet early. She later added an assist on a Catano goal while the Trojans held on for their fifth straight shutout.
That left little time to prepare for the rematch, which offered a chance for Park Hill to win the title outright. Now, the Trojans face questions with Bell not ready to divulge the status of Winebrenner and Walls moving forward.
“It’s tough,” Bell said. “You walk away from this and you say, ‘It was good for us to experience that, to experience two games of this intensity back-to-back, leading into the postseason.
“We’ll take one out of two, rather than zero out of two.”
The loss ended Park Hill South’s 13-game win streak with just one game left in the regular season. The Panthers (17-4, 9-1 Red Division) recorded 10 of their 12 shutouts in that stretch.
Despite the loss, Toigo remained upbeat about the two-game stretch, including a tense rematch that featured three yellow cards — two for Park Hill and one for the Panthers.
“There’s no concern for either of these teams against each other with hunger,” he said. “That was a playoff soccer atmosphere.”
The rivals both entered the postseason as top seeds, hinting at the potential of a trilogy. Park Hill took on Oak Park in the first round of Class 4 District 16 play on Tuesday night, while Park Hill South hosted North Kansas City in a Class 4 District 15 opener.
Results were not available at The Citizen’s deadline.
Both championship games are set for Thursday, May 21 with the winners scheduled to meet up in sectionals on Tuesday, May 26. That would be the only way to truly settle the score between the rivals for this season.