KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Class 5 District 16 boys championship game featured a pair of highly-touted recruits and provided plenty of highlights for the standing-room-only crowd on Friday, March 2 at Staley High School.
Park Hill standout Ronnie Bell hit clutch shots in the second half to turn a double-digit deficit into a 52-50 win for the Trojans, who claimed their second straight district crown over Oak Park.
“It’s big for our school, our program,” Trojans coach Chad Jones said. “Those program has been good for years and we’re proud to continue the tradition of winning basketball at Park Hill.”
The teams traded blows most of the fourth quarter after Park Hill trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half.
The Northmen opened the game on an 8-0 run before a 7-0 run answer from Park Hill seemed to signal a dog fight was on hand. However, Oak Park hit back with another run to push the advantage to double digits, where it remained until Trojans standout Ronnie Bell drilled a 30-footer at the buzzer to cut the deficit to 28-21 at the break.
“We have been in dogfights all-year. For us to be down, wasn’t anything new for us. Our guys don’t panic. They have a tremendous amount of heart and they never thought, they weren’t going to win that game,” Jones said. “We were a completely different team in the first-meeting. We had some different personnel and the guys we have now, believe they can win every single game.”
The shot gave Park Hill new life after the break and Bell continued his onslaught with 14 of his game-high 27 points in the second half. The matchup between Bell, a Michigan football signee, and former Missouri State baskeball signee and the Suburban Conference’s second-leading scorer, and the Northmen’s Ochai Agbaji, the conference’s leading scorer and a Kansas basketball signee heated up in the fourth quarter after Northmen coach Brennan Scanlon made the decision to put his best weapon on the Trojans’ top weapon. Bell’s production was somewhat limited against the 6-foot-5 Agbaji, Bell is listed at 6-1. Bell still tallied six points including the game-icing free throws with less than 10 seconds to play.
For most of the game the task of handling Agbaji fell to senior Cecil Lee, the Trojans tallest player at 6-6. Lee’s defensive effort saw him block several shots from the Northmen’s top playmaker and limited the high-profile recruit to 18 points, nine below his season average.
“He’s a great basketball player,” Lee said. “He’s always a tough matchup. He’s smart player. There’s a lot of fight and a lot of emotion going up against him too. It’s a big confidence boost. We’ve been waiting for these guys for so long. They came out in the first game and tore us to pieces and we’ve been waiting for them ever since.”
Oak Park took the first matchup 49-30 in December, Bell’s season debut after missing the first few games due to the Trojans’ Class 6 semifinal run in football. Lee finished with seven points in the contest but his biggest came to tie the game at 40 entering the fourth quarter.
The final 8 minutes was back and forth between the two teams, neither team led by more than five points.
The Northmen, had one-last chance after a missed free-throw by Willy Majok, who finished with seven points, but a last-second heave by Agbaji fell short at the buzzer, sealing the Trojans 52-50 victory and their second-consecutive district championship.
The Trojans will face the Liberty Blue Jays in the MSHSAA Class 5 Sectionals at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence.
Park Hill beat Liberty, 58-57, in the semifinals of the C.W. Stessman Tournament on Jan. 18 on a buzzer-beating 3 by Bell.
Following their victory Bell and Scanlon had a verbal confrontation outside of the Trojans’ locker room. Neither had shaken hands in the post-game hand-shake line and each blamed the other for the snub.
The two exchanged words and Northmen fans also added their displeasure towards Bell, after he refused to accept Scanlon’s handshake.
Clay County deputies, had to separate the two schools as the Trojans made their way to the bus that was taking them back to Park Hill High School.
Park Hill 60, Staley 53
The Trojans were down by seven when the fourth quarter started on Thursday, March 1.
Then, a turnover right away led to a dunk by Cecil Lee off an offensive rebound.
The next possession, Ronnie Bell dunked and was fouled and hit his free-throw, pulling the third-seeded Trojans within 42-40.
After a bucket by Staley, another dunk by Lee allowed Park Hill to keep pace and with 5 minutes, 29 seconds left.
“They were huge, it gave us some motivation,” Lee said. “It picked us up when we really needed it and it got us going. It was rough (being down in the fourth), the atmosphere was really good and intense. When we got down, we stuck together and really pulled one out.”
Then, Willy Majok got a steal and lobbed the ball down the court. Bell ran under it and slammed it home to tie the game at 46-46.
With 5:12 left, Nic Zeil hit a pair of free throws to break the tie and give Park Hill a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Haden Wallace followed by hitting 3 of 4 free throws and Bell added another basket to push the lead to 54-46 — capping an 11-0 run.
Staley, the No. 2 seed, got a basket from Nick Rumbo with 2 minutes to play — snapping a scoreless streak of nearly four minutes.
The Falcons got a basket from MoVonn Banks with 42.2 seconds left to pull within four and with 17 seconds left, Cameron Wilson scored a layup inside to make it 56-53.
Bell got a layup with 13.5 seconds and hit a free throw to ice the win for the Trojans.
The Michigan-bound wide receiver finished with a team-high 26 points, while Lee had 12.
“I thought our job did a great job answering the intensity to start the fourth quarter,” Park Hill coach Chad Jones said. “Staley really took it to us for a lot of the game. I tip my hat to them. Down seven, we challenged our guys and they responded. A great job of preserving through a tough situation.”
Rumbo had 28 points for the Falcons, who finished 13-12.
Staley led 12-11 after the first quarter and led 15-11 with 7 minutes left in the second when the game was delayed when the Park Hill student section was forced to move from behind the Staley bench to behind the Trojans bench.
The move apparently worked for the Trojans as they zoomed ahead, taking the lead on a 3-pointer from Ryan Graves. The Falcons tied the game and regained the lead on consecutive 3s, the first by Bennett Holloway and the latter by Rumbo.
A layup by DaShawn Powell gave the Trojans a 25-24 lead going into halftime.
Staley used an 8-0 run early in the third to take the lead back and expanded the lead to seven on a 3-pointer by Rumbo at the buzzer in front of the Staley bench.
“We are really happy that lead,” Staley coach Chris Neff said going into the fourth. “Then we turn it over one second into the fourth quarter. Our turnovers and lack of execution in the fourth quarter really, really hurt us bad. It leads to those run outs and dunks … really good players being really good athletes.”