The Panthers rallied around each other through tough injuries much of the year, reaching the Class 5 District 16 championship game on Thursday, May 21 at Park Hill High School. In a rematch, Staley — the district’s top seed — advanced to the Class 5 playoffs with a 6-2 win against the Panthers, reversing the result of their previous meeting during the regular season.
Park Hill South finished 18-8 overall and second in the Suburban Conference Red Division despite receiving no contributions from projected top-end starter Eli Patterson, while losing Jake Purl, who threw the first perfect game in program history and a one-hitter this season, to a fractured orbital bone suffered during a practice late last month.
“The way these kids battled and the way they did everything,” Park Hill South coach Josh Walker said. “I told my wife when (Purl) got hurt and that was the third injury that I would be able to keep it together until the end of the year. It’s an emotional end to the season, but we have to be proud of what we’ve done.
“We played for the district championship, and we were missing our 1 and 2 pitchers and our starting second baseman. I can’t get down on these kids. They are a great group of kids and I look forward to coaching them again next year.”
Staley scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning to take command, although Park Hill South overcame an 8-5 deficit on the way to a 10-9 win against the Falcons on April 22 in the Northland Tournament. The Panthers answered back again in the rematch, plating two in the top of the third but managing only one hit the rest of the way.
Codey Land led off the third with a double to right-center field, stole third base and scored on an RBI single from Carter Hedrick, who came home on sophomore Jake Kline’s RBI groundout.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Walker said. “This team has a lot of character. They are a great group of kids. I thought if we could hold them, we had a shot. We made the most of the situation when we scored but they kept us off the bases. They did a good job.”
Park Hill South centerfielder Colin Farrow led off the sixth with a single — the Panthers’ final hit — but Staley pitcher Jacob Miller picked him off to end any hope of a final threat. He allowed just three hits and walked none, finishing with nine strikeouts and retiring the side in order four times.
Park Hill South starter junior Jacob Thigpen went the distance and allowed all six runs — only one earned.
“Our defense has been pretty damn good all year,” Walker said. “The errors just got us. They did a good job of putting the ball in play and putting pressure on us. We should have fielded a little better than that. I was proud of the kids for battling back though.”