Park Hill South's record soccer season ends in shutout playoff loss

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One moment of indecision in transition led to the end of Park Hill South’s historic season. Rockhurst struck on a quick counterattack 3 minutes into the second half of a Class 4 quarterfinal Saturday, Nov. 7 at Vincent P. Dasta Memorial Stadium. Hawklets forward Cole McClagan calmly buried a low shot at the near post of Park Hill South senior goalkeeper Evan Morrow for what turned out to be the lone goal of a 1-0 victory.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Park Hill South senior defender Seth Hudson (16) fights for a header during the Panthers’ Class 4 quarterfinal match with Rockhurst on Saturday, Nov. 7 at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo.

A giveaway in the back left Morrow exposed, and McClagan’s finish left him no chance.

“They caught us in transition,” Park Hill South coach Joe Toigo said. “We were up the field and gave the ball away when we shouldn’t have.”

Park Hill South saw a 21-match winning streak end with the loss. The Panthers finished at 24-4 with a school record for wins in a season, goals scored (112) and fewest goals conceded (11).

Just three seniors were in the starting lineup for Park Hill South against Rockhurst — a perennial powerhouse now bound for a return to the state semifinals. The Panthers will lose eight total off the roster who became the winningest class in program history but came up agonizingly short of collecting the first state trophy in nearly two decades.

Park Hill South’s three most recent trips to the state quarterfinals also ended with losses to Rockhurst — Class 3 defeats in 2012 and 2004.

“Good game all game long — great team, great season,” Toigo said. “It’s unfortunate that it comes to a loss here, but we came here to play them.”

In this loss, Park Hill South struggled to create many chances but became more dangerous after conceding the goal in the 43rd minute.

Carson Cavitt-Wells, the Panthers’ senior engine in the midfield, sent a free kick from 21 yards out well over the bar in the 47th minute — the first shot against Rockhurst goalkeeper Nicholas Moyer, who finished with three saves. The best chances came in a flurry midway through the first half but none forced uncomfortable work for Moyer.

Colton Smith sent a header well over the bar off another free kick, and junior midfielder Daniel Geary chested a ball on target from a tight angle in a scramble off of a corner kick. Cavitt-Wells initiated the best chance in the 57th minute, sending a ball from the middle out to reserve forward Nylo Clarke on the right-side of the box. His uncontested shot sailed right and provided the best opportunity to trouble Moyer.

ROSS MARTIN/Citizen photo Park Hill South senior Carson Cavitt-Wells attempts to take a shot during the Panthers’ Class 4 quarterfinal match with Rockhurst on Saturday, Nov. 7 at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo.

“Maybe guys got into it and thought, ‘OK. We got to go get something now,’” Toigo said. “And they did a good job. Or maybe when they got the goal, they dropped someone out and tried to defend more, and it helps you attack.”

Rockhurst nearly added to its total in the 68th minute.

With Park Hill South senior standout Seth Hudson on the sideline after receiving a yellow card and a bloodied mouth on a 50-50 challenge, Michael Panella came in and cleared a flicked-on header off the line. The shot had beaten Morrow and would’ve doubled the Hawklets’ advantage without Panella’s work.

Instead, Park Hill South kept pressing forward, and eventually, Rockhurst broke through again. Park Hill South midfielder Joshua Wood received his second yellow card with 1:45 left on the clock for a foul just outside the box. The Panthers avoided giving up a penalty kick but finished with 10 men after the referee sent Wood off.

“I’m surprised they shut us out, but it happened,” Toigo said.

In the first half, Geary, Cavitt-Wells and midfielder Ryan DiBernardo showed flashes, but Park Hill South couldn’t push large numbers forward.

Service from the midfield and wings didn’t reach intended targets, leading to the lack of shots. Rockhurst’s chances were also limited, but Morrow came off his line to deflect a shot on a Hawklets’ breakaway in the fourth minute. He finished with five saves in the loss.

Morrow and Hudson led a backline that produced 19 clean sheets and allowed just one goal in 10 matches on the way to an unblemished Suburban Conference Red Division crown. That was part of a four-year stretch where the Panthers accrued an 88-21 record and reached the playoffs three times, bookending it with quarterfinal appearances.

That’s the legacy left to a strong crop of juniors, including eight starters.

“They hopefully will try to get back to this game next year and get past it. That should be the goal,” Toigo said. “We put the state championship game on the schedule every year, so that’s the goal.”