KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a familiar position, Park Hill found a dramatic way to win a close matchup this time around.
The Trojans came all the way back in a Suburban Conference Gold Division matchup with Blue Springs South on Thursday, Jan. 12 and came away with a 62-60 win. Alex Berger, a senior guard, scored six straight points in the final 20 seconds, the final two on two technical foul free throws, in a wild conclusion to a tight matchup.
In Park Hill’s four losses this season, three came by two points or less or in overtime.
“Our coach put us in big games in those kinds of situations earlier in the season so we’re trying to stay calm right away,” said Berger, who ended up with 19 points. “Even when we were down, a couple years ago we may have been freaking out, but now, we’re just trying to stay composed and calm and just keep earning our way back and be humble about it.”
Berger hit a jumper with less than 20 seconds to go in the game to give Park Hill the lead for good. She then added four free throws, including the shots after referees hit Blue Springs South coach Brad Oyler with a technical for arguing foul calls.
Suddenly down 62-57, Blue Springs South hit a desperation 3 at the buzzer that did nothing but make the final score look better.
Berger hit all eight of her free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, while Park Hill senior forward Morgen Smith led a comeback charge with a game-high 24 points. The Trojans trailed by double digits in the first half, scoring just four points in the first quarter before rallying.
“We were not going to lose; that’s as about as simple as it is,” said Smith, recently back after battling illness in December. “We have a lot of heart, and we just stick together whenever it’s hard and find a way to make the comeback and never want to lay down and give up.”
Park Hill’s offense found its footing in the second quarter, scoring 14 in the final 3 minutes of the half to close within 23-22 at the break on Jenna Winebrenner’s late basket.
Both teams were better on offense from there with Berger and Smith combining for 30 of the Trojans’ 40 second-half points. Tee Tee Bryant, a sophomore guard, added 12 points, seven in the second half.
“We were able to start getting into a flow and could see our confidence starting to rise, and they knew that they could play with them and they just gutted out a tough win,” Park Hill coach Aaron Neeser said.
Smith, Berger, Winebrenner and Gigi Hopkins — all seniors — were responsible for all but 15 of Park Hill’s points. The Trojans improved to 2-2 in Gold Division play and handed the Jaguars’ their first league loss.
In its first season in the Suburban Conference’s largest tier, Park Hill kept pace with the leaders in a wide-open race behind a solid effort from the most experienced players on the roster.
“That’s what you want from seniors,” Neeser said. “You want those kids to want to be on this stage and make those plays in those moments and they did and I couldn’t be prouder of them, just what a great win for these guys.”
Park Hill followed up the win with a victory in the opening round of the Basehor-Linwood Invitational on Monday, Jan. 16. The Trojans defeated Hayden (Kan.) to advance to a semifinal scheduled for Thursday against either Holton (Kan.) or Ottawa (Kan.).