KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Park Hill didn’t leave any doubt, and a Class 5 District 16 semifinal assured coach Aaron Neeser of how far the Trojans have come this season.
Now just one win removed from a playoff return, Park Hill dismantled Oak Park 65-41 on Monday, Feb. 27 at Park Hill High School, sending the top-seeded Trojans into the title game. They were bounced in the semifinal round last year and face defending District 16 champion St. Joseph Central on Thursday, March 2 seeking a second playoff trip in three sesasons.
“I wish I could explain it better, but this team has really come together to make it to this game,” Neeser said. “They really care about each other when they are on the floor, and they help each other be the best they can be.”
Park Hill improved to 19-6 with a fifth straight win.
Alex Berger, a senior guard, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter, while senior forward Morgen Smith added four of her 13 to give the Trojans some early space. They weren’t challenged after leading 17-8 at the end of the first quarter and 33-11 at halftime.
The semifinal was a rematch of an early December meeting between the two teams, which resulted in a 15-point win for Park Hill.
“I was very pleased with our game,” Neeser said. “You could tell the girls were a little tight at first but they relaxed and played their game.”
Oak Park mounted a slight charge in the third quarter after scoring just three points in the second quarter. The Northmen crawled within 18, but sophomore guard Tee Tee Bryant, who put up 12 points in each half on her way to a game-high 24, kept Park Hill from allowing them back into the game.
“We relaxed a little bit, and Oak Park took advantage of it,” Neeser said. “The kids settled down and finished the game the right way, and I am really happy for the kids.”
Berger finished with 14 points and four 3-pointers, animatedly leaving the court with the result well in hand.
Park Hill’s most consistent senior this year enjoyed the closing seconds, knowing the Trojans would have a shot to go back to the playoffs. In 2015, Park Hill ended a two decade playoff drought but lost in a Class 5 sectional, finishing with 19 wins.
To pass that total, Park Hill will need to slip past St. Joseph Central — the two teams have not met this season — and win a playoff game for the first time since finishing second in Class 4A back in 1995.
“At the start of the year, we were a work in progress,” Neeser said. “We worked around some injuries to key people and their teammates stepped up and filled in incredibly. We have really become a complete team at the right time. I couldn’t be happier for the team and the coaches on staff; everyone has worked hard to give this team a chance Thursday.”
Park Hill 71, Raymore-Peculiar 34
The Trojans wrapped up a second place finish in the Suburban Conference Gold Division with a dominant victory on senior night.
Berger hit four 3-pointers and totaled 18 points for Park Hill, which led 18-6 after the first quarter and 40-16 at halftime. The Trojans ended up with three players in double figures — all seniors — with Gigi Hopkins (15 points) and Smith (10 points) joining Berger.
Park Hill went 9-3 in Gold Division play in its first season in the conference’s largest tier, coming in only behind unbeaten Lee’s Summit North.