Park Center began the season at No. 2 in the Class 4A rankings, and after an 82-68 victory over Prior Lake on Dec. 27 the Pirates appeared to be living up to that lofty ranking.
But unlike a year ago, when Park Center lost just once before the state tournament, the Pirates hit a rough patch after their 6-1 start. Losses to No. 1-3A Minnehaha Academy (68-89 on Jan. 3), No. 7-4A Robbinsdale Armstrong (73-76 on Jan. 9) and No. 1-4A Eden Prairie (64-82 on Jan. 25) during a span of seven games dropped the Pirates in the rankings and the league standings, behind Northwest Suburban Conference West Division rivals No. 6-4A Spring Lake Park and No. 7-4A Robbinsdale Armstrong.
Park Center's star center, 6-foot-10 senior Dain Dainja, missed three of those games in the seven-game stretch. He has played three of the last four games, but sat out last Friday's 78-60 victory over visiting Elk River. Dainja averages 22.7 points per game while playing in 13 of the Pirates' 17 games.
But the Pirates (13-4, 6-1) appear to have survived the slip. They enter this week atop the conference standings and have a chance on Friday to both avenge the earlier loss to Armstrong this season and move a little farther ahead of the Falcons (13-2, 4-1) in the league race.
In Park Center's loss to Armstrong in January, the Pirates were without Dainja. Joshua Brown (14 ppg) stepped up in Dainja's absence, scoring 19 points, and David Ijadimbola (9.4 ppg) dropped 17 points. Detavius Frierson adds 13.4 points per game.