Panthers fend off Trojans to reach district finals

ST. JOSEPH — The only quarter that Park Hill didn’t lead was the one that matters the most.

The fourth-seeded Trojans gave a valiant effort against Park Hill South, but the top-seeded Panthers got a late steal to secure a 48-44 victory in the semifinals of the Class 5 District 16 tournament at Central High School.

The win puts the Panthers back in the district title game for the third year in a row, losing the past two appearances to North Kansas City while in Class 5 District 14.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo  Park Hill’s Hannah Graves, left, goes up for layup while being defended by Park Hill South’s Alecia Westbrook during a Class 5 District 16 game on Monday, Feb. 25 in Central High School in St. Joseph.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo

Park Hill’s Hannah Graves, left, goes up for layup while being defended by Park Hill South’s Alecia Westbrook during a Class 5 District 16 game on Monday, Feb. 25 in Central High School in St. Joseph.

“We are 0-0 again and it doesn’t matter what you did,” Park Hill South coach Josh Dorr said. “I told them that yesterday, I told them that before the game. All that matters is when the buzzer goes off you have more points, whether it is by 20 or by 1. It doesn’t matter. The key is to move on.”

Park Hill South struggled to hit free throws late and that kept Park Hill around. With 46.7 seconds left, Kennedy Townsend hit a layup for the Trojans to pull within 45-44.

Over the next 40 seconds the Panthers shot five free throws but hit only two. DQ Guillory made one with 28.1 seconds but missed the second.

Park Hill (14-12) missed a shot on the next possession and Park Hill South got the rebound and was fouled. With 8.9 seconds remaining, DJ Guillory went to the line and made one but missed the second. Park Hill coach Aaron Neeser called a timeout to draw up a play, down 47-44.

The Trojans’ inbound play was intercepted and with 1.7 seconds left Addison Howe was fouled. She made the last of her two free throws to account for the final points.

“I couldn’t be prouder of that, the trust they showed in each other,” said Neeser, whose squad lost 44-28 to Park Hill South in December. “We got better throughout the year and I thought it would be a game. It was. We just missed some opportunities and they took advantage of their opportunities.”

The contest featured plenty of lead changes that started in the first quarter and was back and forth over the next two frames.

The Trojans led 15-12 after the first quarter but a 3-pointer by Bali Cortes gave the Panthers (22-4) a 17-15 lead with less than 6 minutes left in the second.

Back-to-back buckets by Hannah Graves helped the Trojans tie the game at 25. DJ Guillory scored with 1:22 left and DQ Guillory made free throws with 30 seconds left in the first half to make it 30-25 at the break.

The third quarter featured eight different lead changes, starting when Avery Mertz drained a 3 early in the frame.

A layup by DJ Guillory gave the Panthers the lead back, but a layup by Teresa Thomas gave the Trojans the lead again. Park Hill’s latest lead came on another 3 by Mertz, who scored all six of her points in the quarter, making it 38-36.

Howe scored with 1:33 left in the third to give Park Hill South the lead back and Brooke Jones’ only basket extended the lead to 41-38 going into the fourth.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo  Park Hill’s Kennedy Townsend, third from left, and Park Hill South’s DQ Guillory, far right, are two of four players that are going after a loose ball during a Class 5 District 16 semifinal game on Monday, Feb. 25 at St. Joseph Central High School. Park Hill South won the game, 48-44.

CODY THORN/Citizen photo

Park Hill’s Kennedy Townsend, third from left, and Park Hill South’s DQ Guillory, far right, are two of four players that are going after a loose ball during a Class 5 District 16 semifinal game on Monday, Feb. 25 at St. Joseph Central High School. Park Hill South won the game, 48-44.

“I told them, defensively, we weren’t at the level we normally have been at,” Dorr said. “We got to get that fixed.” 

Townsend, a freshman, finished with 15 points, while Graves had 10.

DQ Guillory had 15 for Park Hill South, the only one in double figures, though three others had seven points.

The Panthers will play at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1 against Staley. Park Hill South won the first two meetings against the Falcons, a Suburban Red Division foe. On Feb. 8, Park Hill South won 57-52, while winning 67-56 on Dec. 14.