KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Taiya Shelby’s pass bounced off the unsuspecting face of teammate Aleece Noble, Park Hill’s comeback looked shot.
Benton used the turnover to establish a four-point lead with just 1 minute, 3 seconds left Thursday, Dec. 7 at Park Hill High School. However, the Cardinals would need another chaotic sequence in the closing seconds to pull off a 48-43 win thanks to some spotty shooting at the free throw line.
Once down by 16 in the second quarter, Park Hill rallied all the way back with its youthful roster to nearly pull out a surprise win.
“We showed a lot of grit, showed some competitiveness. We got physical,” Park Hill coach Aaron Neeser said. “They started believing in themselves. Baby steps with this group.”
Benton went just 4 of 13 on free throws in the fourth quarter to offer a lifeline.
Despite playing without junior guard Tee Tee Bryant and freshman Olivia Noble, Park Hill came up with enough offense from freshmen Jayden Dorrell (team-high 11 points) and Avery Mertz (eight points, two 3s) plus Shelby (10 points) to mount the comeback. The Trojans never led but had been within one for a second time when Neeser picked up a technical foul with 3:05 left in regulation for arguing a shooting foul call against his team.
Benton went just 1-for-4 on the ensuing free throws and missed three shots on the resulting possession, left still clinging to a 41-39 lead.
“(Missed free throws) gave us a chance, but it was our mistakes early,” Neeser said.
Park Hill didn’t immediately take advantage and missed two potential tying shots, but Benton missed two more free throws. The Trojans’ next possession with a chance to tie or take the lead ended with the miscommunication between Shelby and Noble, and a putback basket for Kennedy Ruffcorn made it a two-possession game with just more than a minute remaining.
Mertz answered with her own putback at the other end, and Benton missed two more free throws to offer another chance. Dorrell rushed down the floor off the second miss to convert an acrobatic layup to tie the score at 43-43 with 19 seconds left— the first tie since 2-2 in the first quarter.
After a timeout with 10.2 seconds to go, Benton ended up with an out of bounds play under the basket with 6.4 to go.
Ruffcorn took a pass and converted an easy shot while drawing a foul, and the free throw with 4.3 seconds left made it 46-43. Benton’s Kenzie Russell then stole the inbounds pass and made a layup at the buzzer to make the final margin five points.
Park Hill’s trouble started with turnovers in the first half.
Neeser’s pressure defense struggled to find footing, and he took a timeout at the 3:53 mark of the first quarter with Benton ahead 8-2. Hannah Graves — another freshman — scored four of her six points in the first quarter to keep the Trojans’ close, but Russell hit a 3 at the buzzer to make it 19-6.
Benton added another 3 on the opening possession of the second quarter to cap a 10-0 run and led 24-8 with 7 minutes left before halftime.
“When you turn the ball over, it doesn’t give your offense much of a chance to get in a flow,” Neeser said. “We were able to get in the flow there in the third quarter, started being aggressive and making good decisions.”
Benton scored just 24 points in the final 23 minutes, and five of those came in the final 4.3 seconds.
Park Hill went into halftime down 29-18 after Shelby’s runner at the buzzer rimmed off. Dorrell scored a basket on the first possession of the second half, and Mertz hit her first 3 on the next trip down the floor to put the lead into single digits for the remainder of the game. Teresa Thomas came off the bench and provided four of her six points in the critical stretch.
Benton hit another 3 at the third quarter buzzer off of a Park Hill turnover to make it 36-31, but the momentum wouldn’t last.
Aleece Noble’s three-point play with 6:59 to go made it 38-36, and Dorrell split two free throws after a quick turnover to make it 38-37 just 19 seconds later. Despite multiple chances, the Trojans just couldn’t come up with the shot to take a lead on the Class 4 powerhouse.
“We’re going to make mistakes along the way,” Neeser said, “but as long as we keep learning from it, we’re going to give ourselves a chance at the end of the year and that’s all we’re asking from this group. It’s not going to be pretty sometimes, but we’re hoping the end result is where we want to be.”
Notre Dame de Sion 46, Park Hill 36
The Trojans again fell behind early and the losing streak hit two Monday, Dec. 11 in Kansas City, Mo.
Notre Dame de Sion raced to a 10-2 lead, and Park Hill trailed 28-13 at halftime. The Trojans battled back to within five going into the fourth quarter but couldn’t complete the comeback.
Park Hill dropped to 3-3 overall.
Park Hill South 64, Oak Park 50
The Panthers pulled away with a strong second quarter in a nonconference game Thursday, Dec. 7 at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo.
Westbrook scored 14 of her 21 points in the first half, including 10 in the second quarter to send Park Hill South into halftime up 28-19. The Panthers led by double digits much of the rest of the way despite 23 points for Oak Park’s Paige Allen — 11 coming at the free throw line.
Raquel Reid scored 16 points in the second half in her best peformance of the season for Park Hill South, while Dequaria Guillory had a pair of 3s and 11 points.