For three straight seasons, Andover Central’s Darraja Parnell cried in the locker room following a heartbreaking sub-state championship game loss. Each time he was one win short from advancing to the state basketball tournament.
Saturday, he led Andover Central to a 60-40 win over Andale at Circle in a sub-state title game to advance to the Class 4A-I tournament.
Andover Central (18-4) last qualified for state in 2010.
“It means a lot,” Parnell said. “I was 0 for 3 coming in this year.… I’ll take it. I’m just happy to be here.”
At the start of his senior season, Parnell wasn’t sure he’d have the opportunity to play at the state tournament. While the Jaguars were coming off a runner-up finish in 4A-I football, they opened the season by losing two of their first three games.
“We started out terrible,” Parnell said. “I really didn’t think we’d be this good. We kept getting better over the season. It’s good to see the team finally come together and put up performances like that.”
Parnell, who finished with 24 points, missed his first two point-blank shots. But Parnell, who has been one of the Wichita-area’s top scorers since he scored 29 points in the Jaguars’ season-opener his freshman season, didn’t stay cold long.
He hit five of his next seven shots, including a three-pointer. He scored 14 first-half points as Andover Central turned a one-point deficit after the first period into a 30-20 lead at half.
Parnell made 10 of 15 shots and had six rebounds.
“I’m extremely happy for our guys,” Andover Central coach Jesse Herrmann said. “Our seniors haven’t been to a state tournament. Just for them to get there, the work that goes into the season — we’ve been in the (losing) locker room. We know how tough it is. I’m really happy for the guys. Hopefully we really soak it in and get up there and try to win it.”
As the Jaguars got back into basketball mode — Parnell, Jordan Birch, Peyton Huslig and Cole Taylor were key football players — the winning happened. Their last loss was in triple overtime to Eisenhower on Feb. 9.
“We’ve been playing well since the midseason tournament,” Herrmann said. “… We’ve morphed into a complete team as the season has gone on. Offensively, we’re tough to guard.”
Parnell leads Andover Central in most statistical categories, and he can seemingly score at will by hitting the deep three-pointers, driving in for the layup or getting past defenders, only to pull up for the jumper.
But he also sees the floor well, and that’s where he becomes an even bigger threat. While defenses must account for his drives, he is quick to pass it back out to the bevy of three-point shooters, including Taylor, Eyan Curtis and Isaac Anthemides. Bryce Bezdek, Andrew Rafferty and Easton Leedom add quality depth on the perimeter, as well.
Huslig and Birch, who both returned to basketball after a season away, were solid additions. The duo was key in clamping down on Andale senior center Jeffery Ast, who scored nine points, seven from the free-throw line.
Eight Andover Central players scored, with Taylor adding 10 points. The Jaguars shot 22 of 38 from the field and outrebounded Andale 28-22. Andale was 11 of 39 from the field.
“We had too many turnovers,” said Andale coach Jeff Buchanan, whose team finished at 18-4. “Credit to them on defense, getting on the inside and forcing us into a few turnovers.… You can’t play bad and expect to win. But no one expected us to go 18-4. I’m very proud of what these young men accomplished this year.”
Andale led 10-4 after the first three minutes, courtesy of an 8-2 run that included two three-pointers by Pete Carney.
But a 10-0 run by Andover Central — eight points from Parnell — put the Jaguars ahead for good.
Andale got within 14-12 following Zach Meyer’s jumper with 6:22 to go in the second. That basket ended a nearly seven-minute scoring drought by Andale.
Andover Central had a 10-point halftime lead, and Andale didn’t get any closer.
“We found out that, if we don’t play defense, we’re not going to win,” said Parnell, who had three steals. “So we found it out the hard way against Andover the third game of the year. We used to use the excuse it was because we were coming off football.
“If you play defense and you rebound, the offense will come to you.”
Andover Central: Parnell 24, Curtis 3, Huslig 4, Taylor 10, Birch 6, Anthemides 2, Bezdek 8, Leedom 3
Andale: Walstad 9, Bruce 4, Ast 9, Carney 10, Meyer 6, Jobbins 2