Special to The Citizen
RIVERSIDE, Mo. — With all the momentum, Park Hill South seemed inevitably poised to complete a comeback.
But the Panthers couldn’t sustain their swagger in the fourth quarter of a 51-39 loss against North Kansas City on Thursday, March 2, in a Class 5 District 14 semifinal. The Hornets held Park Hill South to just one point in the final four-plus minutes after the Panthers had clawed back within one of the eventual district champions.
Park Hill South ended the season 19-7, unable to earn a third straight playoff berth.
“We knew we were just one stop away, just trying to get that one stop to get us over the hump,” said Park Hill South senior guard Jacob Kline, a three-year starter who helped take the Panthers to the Class 5 state title game as a sophomore. “But they were the better team tonight.”
Park Hill South struggled to find its rhythm in a stop-and-start first half. North Kansas City closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run to take a 12-point lead into the locker room. The Panthers hit just three field goals in the first half, but they snapped out of their slump almost immediately after halftime.
Connor Lee, the only other senior starter, scored two buckets in the first minute of the third quarter, and junior Saadique Perkins threw down a rim-rattling, fast-break dunk that energized the Park Hill South’s sideline with renewed enthusiasm.
“We just needed a different energy,” Kline said. “We had to match their intensity because they came out pretty hot. We just tried to match them, get it going and find a rhythm.”
Defense also played an important role in the resurgence, and Park Hill South coach Danny Parra said some key stops contributed to the offensive surge.
“We finally got defensive stops, it felt like, in a row,” Parra said. “We got maybe three or four in a row there, got it going a little bit.”
Kline knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during an 11-3 run that pulled Park Hill South back within a single point early in the 4th quarter. Following an NKC flurry, Panthers sophomore leading scorer Lamel Robinson’s driving layup again trimmed the Panthers’ deficit to a single point, 38-37, with 4 minutes remaining.
“When it’s your senior year, and it’s coming down to it, you’re like, ‘I don’t want this to end.’” Parra said. “That was part of it.”
Park Hill South had a chance to tie or take the lead with 3½ minutes remaining, but Perkins missed two front-end free throws during a pivotal stretch that saw the Panthers fade. After clinging to a one-point lead, North Kansas City closed the game on a 13-2 run that benefited mostly from free-throw shooting. Eltijani Babikir led the Hornets with a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers, and Deng Bol added 10 points.
Lee went for nine points and Kline scored seven in the final game of their stellar careers. Park Hill went 61-22 the past three seasons, including a 26-4 run as state runner-up in 2015. The Panthers came back last year with Robinson and Williams in the fold, winning a district title and losing in sectionals.
“I loved it, and I loved all my three years,” Kline said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Perkins and Robinson both scored a team-high 10 points for Park Hill South. Both will return to lead a promising squad that will maintain high expectations for success.
“We do have a lot of young kids with obviously a lot of talent,” Parra said. “Hopefully, those seniors have shown those guys what hard work is and they learn from that.”