KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With every reason to fold against potential adversity, Park Hill opted to fight back and take out frustration.
Ronnie Bell threw down an emphatic dunk at the end of each half, punctuating the Trojans’ 64-41 blowout of Oak Park in the Class 5 District 16 title game on their home floor. The Northmen took an early lead but couldn’t contain a multi-pronged offense that attacked from all angles.
Park Hill looked crisp and in control despite playing with head coach Chad Jones serving an apparent one-game suspension due to an undisclosed incident.
“We’ve come a long way,” said veteran coach Fred Turner, who served as acting head coach and joked afterward about having the chance to win his final game in charge after more than four decades on the sideline at the high school and collegiate levels. “I tried to tell them I was a head coach in 39 of 45 years. This is probably the most talented individuals in high school I’ve been around.”
All indications point to Jones returning to the bench for Park Hill’s Class 5 sectional matchup Wednesday, March 8 at Silverstein Eyes Center Arena in Independence, Mo. The alum in his second season at the helm has the Trojans poised to make a playoff run, starting with Liberty (19-8) in the opening round.
Park Hill returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 when the Trojans finished 13-14 with a loss in the opening round.
“This is our goal since Day 1,” said Park Hill senior guard Dru Smith, who finished with a team-high 22 points. “Everybody bought in. We were together, and we just made it happen. We’re definitely not done yet.”
A plucky .500 underdog with current Wichita State guard Landry Shamet running the show in 2014, Park Hill has the credentials to be a state semifinal threat this time around.
Smith again provided a needed calming influence early against Oak Park for the Trojans, who have lost just twice since Jan. 24 — both to Suburban Conference Gold Division foe and potential quarterfinal opponent Lee’s Summit West. The Northmen hit the first two shots for a 4-0 lead in front of a packed and energized gym at Park Hill High School.
Smith hit a pair of 3s, and senior forward Chester Graves used his bulky, 6-foot-5 frame to muscle his way to three baskets. Oak Park took a timeout down 14-7 with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left in the first quarter and briefly regained composure.
With time running down in the quarter, Smith stepped up again and banked in another 3 at the buzzer to push the advantage to 20-11 then returning to the other end of the floor to repeatedly slap his right hand against the padded wall in celebration of the big shot.
“I’m the leader for the team, and all my teammates, they just follow behind me,” Smith said. “I just have to step it up and hit the shots to get us going.”
Oak Park managed to use long possessions to slow the pace in the second quarter but couldn’t close the gap to one possession.
Then came Bell’s first highlight reel dunk. In transition, the 5-11 junior guard took a run through the middle of the lane, taking off on one foot with Oak Park’s Ronney Goods in the way.
Bell kept going up for a one-handed dunk that sent the home portion of the crowd into pandemonium. He has recorded dunks like that twice this season, the other coming in a road win at Blue Springs South in February.
“As soon as I feel comfortable and I can get to my launch pad, I know that it’s over,” said Bell, who ended up with 12 points.
Despite 26 points for Oak Park star junior Ochai Agbaji, Park Hill’s defense persisted to back up the blowout.
Smith finished the third quarter with six 3-pointers, helping the Trojans lead grow to 47-22. Roman Wilson, a 6-foot-10 sophomore scored seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Trojans’ offense moving, and they remained in control late when Bell supplied his second highlight reel play.
Knifing through a surprisingly passive trapping defense, Bell threw down a two-handed dunk to go with a chin-up on the rim with less than 2 minutes left. As he walked away from the play, Bell mouthed to no one in particular, “It’s over.”
“All we kept telling each other was, ‘We have to finish,’” Bell said.
While the district title game was over at that point, Park Hill’s story wasn’t. The Trojans haven’t played Liberty yet this season after the two teams were put in separate divisions of the Suburban Conference this season.
Park Hill did beat potential quarterfinal opponent and District 14 champion North Kansas City, which plays Lee’s Summit in the second sectional matchup Wednesday night. The Trojans’ seniors were just freshmen during the last playoff run and hope to leave their legacy.
All time, Park Hill has just a 1-8 record in the playoffs and no playoff wins in more than two decades.