Special to The Citizen
RIVERSIDE, Mo. — One of Park Hill South’s weaknesses reemerged at the wrong time.
The Panthers missed key opportunities at the free throw line late in the Class 5 District 14 championship game Friday, March 3 at Park Hill South High School. North Kansas City twice let big leads slip away, only to recover just in time for a 42-38 win.
Park Hill South senior Emily Dinovo misfired on two free throws in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the lead. The Panthers were 17 for 35 at the line overall, earning enough opportunities to spring an upset of the top seed but not taking enough advantage.
“It bothers ya,” Park Hill South coach Josh Dorr said after finishing his first season in charge. “Probably the only reason it doesn’t bother me as much is because it has been our Achilles heel all season.”
Park Hill South finished an up-and-down season at 12-15 overall. The Panthers lost four of their first five in a tumultuous start and were 3-6 at the Christmas break after a string of losses that included poor foul shooting.
After the break, Park Hill South rallied back to .500 with the return of sophomore center Alecia Westbrook and later sprang an upset of state-ranked Hickman in the North Kansas City Tournament. The experience with adversity nearly paid off against North Kansas City.
“We’ve been in a lot of games like this, and I tell them, ‘Keep fightin;’ keep fightin,’” Dorr said.
Park Hill South trailed by double digits after the first and third quarters.
A 17-4 run to open the fourth quarter put North Kansas City’s advantage in jeopardy. Westbrook capped the surge with the Panthers’ lone 3-pointer to close them within 36-35 with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in regulation.
After a stop, Dinovo drew a foul on the next possession but missed both free throws.
Park Hill South held possession multiple times with a chance to tie or take the lead but couldn’t come up with the big shot. North Kansas City, which went just 11 for 24 on free throws, split two pairs of chances at the line in the final minute to hold on.
“It looked to me like we just got a little nervous,” Dorr said. “It was the first time that many of them had ever played in any sort of championship game.”
Park Hill South looked nervous early, too.
After scoring just three points in the first quarter and trailing 13-3, the defense sparked a 10-2 run in the second quarter. North Kansas City missed six straight shots to provide an opening.
A two-point halftime lead for North Kansas City ended up stretched back to 10 with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter. Park Hill South’s second extended lull resulted in a 32-18 deficit entering the fourth quarter, when the Panthers made one last desperate charge to forge an unlikely playoff bid.
“The game was bittersweet, you know we had a great season,” said Westbrook, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
Park Hill South featured just three seniors and only Grace Cunningham and Dinovo played a major role this season. Nicole Gardner came off the bench.
After the slow start to the season, the Panthers opened Suburban Conference Red Division at 3-0 before ending up 6-4 and part of a three-way tie for second. The potential showed when best when Westbrook was in the lineup playing alongside a developing trio of sisters — junior Dymeria Guillory, sophomore De’Jaria Guillory and freshman DeQuaria Guillory.
Park Hill South can also expect the return of junior Raquel Reid, who barely played this season after suffering an offseason knee injury.
“We have a lot of girls coming up and I am really excited,” Westbrook said.
Park Hill South 58, St. Teresa’s Academy 45
The Panthers pulled ahead with a strong third quarter Tuesday, Feb. 28 in a 2-3 semifinal at Park Hill South High School in Riverside, Mo.
Westbrook ended up with a game-high 26 to help second-seeded Park Hill South reach the title game with the 12th and final win of the season. The Panthers went into halftime down 23-21 but quickly turned around the deficit behind the 6-foot-2 sophomore and Dymeria Guillory (13 points).