KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Facing a huge deficit, Park Hill fought back and nearly stole a victory in an early season dual between state hopefuls.
Liberty swept the three doubles matches Thursday, March 23 at Barry Park, but the host Trojans won four of the first five singles matches to set up a decisive finale. The Blue Jays prevailed at No. 3 singles to take a tight 5-4 victory in the season opener for both teams.
Last year, Park Hill and Liberty met in the regular season finale with Liberty taking a 6-3 victory to earn the Suburban Conference Red Division title. Both teams went on to reach the Class 2 playoffs, and both lost to eventual state runner-up Rockhurst.
“We have been looking forward to it since we lost to them last year,” Park Hill coach Rustin Reys said. “They’re a good team. They have good players all the way down — good singles, good doubles. One kid is a state championship caliber player so we circled it from the moment that the season was over last year.”
With the two teams moving to different divisions of conference this year, the rematch ended up coming early in the season.
Liberty seemed to be in control after doubles, but Park Hill received victories from returning doubles state qualifiers Jake McFee (No. 2) and Chandler To (No. 4) plus wins for varsity returner Matt Zhang (No. 5) and senior newcomer Ryan Decker (No. 6). McFee’s win felt especially important coming off knee surgery during the offseason.
“I definitely walked into today feeling 100 percent intent on getting a win as a team,” said McFee, a sectional qualifier each of the past two seasons. “After going down 0-3 in doubles, I just decided I’m going to focus on my match. I know everyone else has their job to do.”
Park Hill put five seniors in the top six, but Cooper Hayes, a sophomore, debuted at No. 1. He dropped his match to returning state qualifier Owen Mulachy, and Grant Martin — another returner who moved up to No. 3 in the lineup — lost 10-8 to allow Liberty to escape with the win.
Despite the result, Reys tried not to focus on the score of the dual, knowing that Park Hill can hope to see Liberty again this season in the playoffs.
“If you’re trying to serve and volley or you’re trying to hit it to his back hand, that’s what matters,” Reys said of his players’ focus in the opener, “so I hope they can kind of stick to that and each individual person can do their job on each individual point and then we’ve got a chance. I told them before the match started, the score doesn’t matter; your job matters.”
Park Hill has reached the playoffs each of the past two years, advancing to the Class 2 quarterfinals a year ago. McFee and To were on separate state qualifying doubles teams, marking the first time in program history the Trojans sent two doubles teams to state.