Kayla McMorris (23) of Park Center scores 2 of her 26 points during half. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Everything Park Center does is fast and with plenty of intensity.
It starts with senior Cayla McMorris, who sets the tone on offense for the No. 2-ranked (Class 3A) Pirates. She literally scores in every way.
McMorris can drive to the basket with no fear of contact from opponents that have a distinct size advantage.
Or she can just open the night by popping off a 3-pointer and begin the process of scoring 25 points in a 72-62 win against No. 3 (Class 4A) Centennial.
"We see her shine in these big games every time," Pirates coach Chris CanderHyde said. "She proves in games like this that she is the best player in the state."
McMorris was going to need a little more help than usual for the Pirates to avenge an a loss in their second game of the season to the Cougars, when they were blown out by 17.
She picked up two early fouls in the first half, so VanderHyde had to put her on the bench for a while.
Centennial was down by as many as 10 points in the first but cut the deficit to three, taking advantage of McMorris' time on the bench.
McMorris came back strong in the second half, scoring 15 and also getting her defense back in order.
"Those first two fouls threw me off a bit," she said. "Once I got back out in the second I felt more confident, and knew I had to be a leader for my team."
A team that has had to learn quick this season. Park Center's roster includes seven eighth-graders and five freshmen. All of the youngsters have learned on the fly, and freshman guard Danielle Schaub is similar to McMorris in that she is not afraid to go into the paint to scrap with bigger players.
She even made a highlight-reel play when she hit McMorris in stride on a fast break. McMorris, in one swift motion, laid the basket in the bucket.
"I think we have grown a lot from our first game against them," VanderHyde said. "We are young, but I think we are proving that those players are ready now."
"This is the first time a lot of our players are playing varsity," McMorris said. "They know what they are doing because they played in some big AAU games, so they have adjusted really well."
Centennial was led by Jill Conrad's 22 points while Daizjah Morris chipped in with 17. The Cougars drop to 12-3 and now have one loss in conference play.
Along with 25 from McMorris, Mikayla Hayes and McKenna DuBois each scored 15 as Park Center improved to 13-2, one of those losses coming in conference play.
"Our goal is to win a conference championship and this was one that we needed to get there," McMorris said.