Park Hill South junior Ryan Welty stood in the middle of the Mizzou Arena floor on Friday night, a chaotic celebration surrounding him in every direction, and simply watched. He was a bit stunned, he would later admit, and perhaps too awestruck to join the festivities.
His teammates bounced up and down in unison. Senior James Byrd sprinted toward the student section, yelling nothing in particular as he leaped into a collection of awaiting arms.
A raucous celebration. A deserving cause.
Park Hill South took out Chaminade, the state’s top-ranked team, in the Missouri Class 5 state semifinals Friday, erasing a 13-point deficit in the second half for a 53-50 win.
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“We feel that they might’ve overlooked us,” Welty said. “We’re Park Hill South. We flew under the radar all year. But we knew we had a chance in this game.” They earned one more game.
For the first time, the Missouri Class 5 boys championship game will feature a pair of Kansas City schools when Park Hill South meets Blue Springs South at 6:40 p.m. Saturday. Park Hill South will be playing for its first state championship.
An unlikely date.
Behind Jayson Tatum, the nation’s top-ranked junior recruit on ESPN.com, Chaminade built a 13-point lead in the third quarter on Friday.
It didn’t last.
Park Hill South, 26-3, slowly chipped away at the advantage — holding Tatum without a second-half field goal in the process — and took its first lead of the half midway through the fourth quarter, when Welty was fouled on a three-pointer and made all three free throws.
Welty and Byrd finished with 16 points apiece for the Panthers, who became the first team from Missouri to defeat Chaminade this season.
“They were on cruise control,” Byrd said. “It was ridiculous. Tatum decided he wanted to take over and started shooting a lot of tough shots. They weren’t playing team basketball, and we were.”
“I took too many jump shots,” Tatum said. “It was my fault.”
Tatum kept Chaminade alive from the free-throw line — where he earned 11 of his game-best 17 points — but Park Hill South guard Jacob Kline nailed a three-pointer from the corner to give the Panthers the lead for good.
“I felt like this was a great opportunity. You always want to play the best,” Byrd said. “But they should’ve been looking forward to playing us, too.”