CHESTERFIELD – For the third time this season, archrival boys basketball programs and hooked up Wednesday night.
The teams traded victories in the two previous meetings, with North earning a 59-51 win in the season opener back in November, and Central claiming a 47-45 win in conference play three weeks ago.
But the most important matchup of the season came Wednesday night, when the Vikings and Colts clashed one last time in the MSHSAA Class 5 District 4 semifinals, with the winner earning a shot at the district title game on Friday night.
And thanks to a brilliant performance by 6-foot-8, 240-pound senior center Darrell Johnson, it was Parkway North's night, somehow outlasting Parkway Central for a 49-45 win, in front of a raucous packed house at the Parkway Central Gym.
“Every game is like this when we play Parkway Central,” Johnson said. “(Parkway Central) has been getting their points on us inside the last couple of years. In the last game, when we lost to them, they (dominated the) boards. We couldn't have it. Coach made sure that we boxed out and that we found Biggs.”
Johnson was referring to Central’s 6-foot-4 senior power forward Zach Biggs, who almost single-handedly destroyed North in that last meeting with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
On Wednesday though, it was Johnson who was the monster inside, going off for a near triple-double, with 14 points, 20 rebounds, and nine blocked shots to lead the Viking attack.
“That kid is some kind of player,” Central head coach Todd Pannett said. “He just controlled everything on the inside tonight. Some of our best looks come on quick cuts to the basket, and he just completely took us out of that. That kid’s fantastic.”
Wednesday’s effort marked Johnson’s third straight spectacular game for the Vikings, which saw him go off for 31 points and 20 rebounds in a blowout win over Francis Howell Central on February 14, then follow up with 24 points and 22 rebounds
But Johnson’s best effort might have been Wednesday’s near-historic performance, which left him just one blocked shot shy of a triple-double, a feat which could very well have been the first in school history.
“Wow, I didn’t know that,” Johnson said. “That’s amazing. But it took all of us to get this win tonight. My teammates played great too. I’m just glad we won. And now we get to play for the district title on Friday.”
That matchup will also be played at Parkway Central High, Friday at 7 p.m., as the Vikings (20-6) will advance to face top-seeded and No. 7 in the area (19-8).
“It’s going to take defense,” Johnson said. “We did it here. We can do it again on Friday.”
Even with the great defensive effort, it took a 14-2 run through the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to put the Vikings up for good.
Johnson had a key putback during that spurt, but it was teammate Aaron Hines’ buzzer-beating three-pointer that sent the North bench and all its fans into a frenzy that lasted through the rest of what would be a tight game between the two Parkway School District rivals.
Central senior Zach Carel had an equally fantastic game for the Colts. He led all scorers with 28 points, including six three-pointers that kept Central in the game and nearly brought them all the way back.
Carel drained three three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone, including a dead-eye, long-range heave that pulled the Colts to within 47-45 with 29.7 seconds left.
Moments later, after a Hines free throw made the score 48-45, Carel had a chance to tie the score, but an off-balance three with a defender draped over him fell short and was rebounded by North’s Darryl Harmon with 4.3 seconds left, who made one-of-two free throws to put the game away for the Vikings.
“We could kind of see Zach was getting it going early,” Pannett said. “So we started running more stuff to get him more looks, and boy was he great tonight. He just kept making shot after shot, so we kept going to him.
“That last one, we tried to get him a good look, and there was some contact, it just didn’t go in.”
The Colts finished the year with a 16-11 record, the program’s first winning season since its last district championship campaign in 2002-2003.
“I’m just really proud of these guys this year,” Pannett said. “Especially (Carel and Biggs), who were the first kids involved in the feeder program when we started seven years ago.
“We didn’t even have a feeder program, but when we started one, those kids were the first kids there, and they’ve been with me ever since. So this being their last game is really emotional and special to me.”