MARYLAND HEIGHTS – The hugs, kisses, tears, and high-fives were overflowing Thursday night at Pattonville High School, as the Pirate community hosted “Senior Night” in honor of the graduating class of the girls basketball, drill team, and cheerleading squads.
A packed house of Pattonville friends and family proved once again that nobody knows how to throw a “Senior Night” party like the Pirates.
And that was before the game even started.
Once the action actually began on the court, things only got better for Pattonville, which claimed its first Suburban North Conference girls basketball championship since 2003, with a 42-34 win over five-time defending league champ Hazelwood Central.
“It was a big win for us,” Pattonville head coach Craig Gregory said. “(Hazelwood Central) has owned the conference. They’ve won it every year, and somebody told me they’ve won 37 straight games in the conference. And for us to finally beat them and win the league is just huge.”
Thursday’s victory also gave Gregory his first league championship as head coach of the Pirates since taking over four years ago when his current group of seniors Sam Callahan, Kristen Hanna, Christian Johnson, Mikala McGhee, and Kailey Utley were freshmen.
“It’s kind of fitting I think that we did this together,” Gregory said. “We all sort of started together. And our first game together was in the old Suburban North Conference tournament, and we played Hazelwood Central. And I just think it’s kind of neat that we had to go through them in our last game to win (our first) championship.”
Three-sport Pattonville standouts McGhee and Utley, who along with being fantastic basketball players have been top soccer and softball players as well, were key figures in the Pirates pulling out Thursday’s victory.
McGhee, who’ll play basketball at Missouri State University next fall, led all scorers with 15 points, including a brilliant 10-for-11 effort from the free throw line, which helped Pattonville establish control of the game, even though it was clear Hazelwood Central’s strategy was to foul McGhee rather than let her shoot her usual high percentage from the field.
And Utley, the Pirates speedy point guard, who recently accepted a full scholarship to play soccer at West Virginia University, made two key steals and converted them into layups late in the fourth quarter to help hold off the Hawks.
“They both really stepped up for us again tonight,” Gregory said. “Mikala was unbelievable from the line tonight. And ‘Kay-Kay’, that’s Kailey’s nickname, made two unbelievable plays at the end to help us keep the lead when Central was trying to come back.”
The Pirates built a 10-point edge early in the fourth quarter, and seemed destined to cruise to one of the biggest wins in Gregory’s career as coach.
But Central’s Alyssia Winston, who also had 15 points in the game, helped the Hawks cut the deficit to three midway through the final quarter.
The Hawks had a chance to tie the game, after scoring a bucket, then forcing a Pattonville turnover with the Pirates ahead 35-32.
But Central missed on a three-point attempt, which led to an Utley one-woman fastbreak score that gave the Pirates the breathing room needed to close out the win.
The victory lifted Pattonville’s overall record to 21-3, and was the team’s 16th win in its last 17 games, as the Pirates get ready for the MSHSAA District playoffs, which will begin around the state on Monday.
Pattonville will be competing in Missouri Class 5 District 4 at Parkway Central High, where the Pirates have been named the No. 2 seed in a grouping that includes 16-8 Hazelwood West, 16-8 Parkway North, and 21-6 two-time defending state champ Incarnate Word.
The Pirates have a first-round bye, and will play their first district game at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 23, in the district semifinals against either Parkway North or Ritenour.
Should Pattonville win that game, it would advance to the district championship game the following night, Friday, February 24, at Parkway Central at 5:30 p.m.
Hazelwood Central, which heads to the playoffs with a 14-9 mark, is the top seed in Missouri Class 5 District 8 at McCluer High.
The Hawks also received a first-round bye, and will begin district play on Tuesday, February 21, against either Normandy or archrival Hazelwood East.
The District 8 championship game is set for Saturday, September 25, at McCluer at 2 p.m.