LIBERTY, Mo. – Park Hill South continued its reign on the Class 4 District 15 title.
For the third straight year, the Panthers recorded a win in the championship game to reach the playoffs, beating Liberty North 4-0 on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The goals were bunched in pairs at the end of both halves and kept up a unique streak.
The state expanded to four classes three years ago, meaning Park Hill South is the only champion of Class 4 District 15 in state history.
“It feels really good to win the past three years and to keep our season going and just see how far we can make it,” said Park Hill South senior forward Ryan DiBernardo, who scored a goal in each half.
Park Hill South went on to stumble in the 2014 sectional round but advanced to the quarterfinals last year. With a senior-heavy group, the Panthers hope to start this playoff run with a win against Oak Park in a game scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 1.
The result was not available at The Citizen’s deadline, but the winner advances to Saturday’s quarterfinal round where Park Hill South would want a rematch with Rockhurst, which ended the Panthers’ season a year ago. The process started with getting back to the playoffs.
“I feel great with trying to carry on the tradition that these guys have done twice before without me as the head coach and I just wanted to make sure we could get it done again,” said Park Hill South coach Chris Farmer, who took over as head coach this season for longtime coach Joe Toigo.
Park Hill South (18-3-2) beat Liberty North for the second time this season with 11 senior starters.
Despite the obvious advantage in experience, Liberty North forced a slow start, and the game was scoreless for the first half hour. The Panthers’ versatility showed in how the goals were scored.
Daniel Gunderson, a senior midfielder, gave Park Hill South a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute on a header off of a cross from senior midfielder Dan Geary, who earned the first of three assists. DiBernardo added his first just before halftime after Liberty North’s goalkeeper stopped a shot from senior forward Nylo Clarke.
DiBernardo put away the rebound to give Park Hill South a 2-0 lead and some needed confidence after entering as the heavy favorite.
“There’s definitely pressure when everyone expects you to win because everyone is gunning for you and everyone is trying to beat you and it’s just expected that you win,” Dibernardo said. “It felt nice to finally get those goals in the first half because we had so many shots and they just weren’t finding the back of the net.”
Liberty North’s goalkeeper made six saves to help keep the game close, but consistent pressure eventually wore down the Eagles (11-12).
Park Hill South senior goalkeeper Noah Brizendine made both of his saves at important times, denying chances in the 50th and 66th minute to keep the 2-0 lead intact. Shortly after his second save, Park Hill South scored off of a counterattack with Gunderson coming up with a two-goal game at the best possible time.
“I’ve been playing different positions all season so finally being up top is just nice to finally be scoring goals since I have been playing defensively all season,” Gunderson said.
DiBernardo added the style points in the 79th minute with a Geary pass springing him on a breakaway. The fourth goal put the finishing touches on the win, and the players began to celebrate the third straight district title as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Liberty North’s defensive strategy worked for a while, but Park Hill South’s depth of options won out.
“That was their game plan,” Farmer said. “They play well defensively, and they were just kind of putting up a wall. It was hard for us to get through there, and I knew when we could get that first goal, I felt like we could kind of open up the floodgates a little bit.”