After squandering lead in December loss at Kirksville, CHS sees 11-points lead early in fourth quarter shrink to two in last seconds, but survives district tourney opener 46-44 Saturday. Will play top seed St. Joseph: Lafayette Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — Often in sports, the key to a victory or a particular contribution to victory is measured in quantity. Other times, it’s quality.
On occasion, though, as exhibited Saturday in the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets’ 46-44 triumph over Kirksville, it is all about timeliness.
During practice last week, CHS junior Hayden Montgomery sustained a twisted knee, one which CHS head coach Tim Cool said he expected to sideline the reserve guard for at least the team’s Class 4 District 16 Tournament opener against Kirksville a couple of days later.
As the team gathered for the trip to Cameron for that game, Cool and his coaching staff saw no reason to change that evaluation, even though Montgomery was present and planned to be in uniform.
Following pre-game warmups, however, Cool told the C-T after the game, the player told him the ibuprofen he’d taken earlier in the day had taken the edge off the pain and he’d found the joint reliable enough during the low-speed warmups that, if needed, he felt capable of playing some.
It turned out Cool saw need of using him for only 18 seconds, but that was all Montgomery needed to have a major impact on the game.
Having spelled “off” guard Chris Trout for the final 15 seconds of the first quarter to give the starter a few extra moments of rest, Montgomery sat and watched again until there were only 3-plus seconds to go in the third period.
The Hornets had just squandered a chance to take a final shot of the segment to attempt to increase their lead to 11 points, committing a turnover and then fouling.
That handed Kirksville, which had used a strong fourth quarter to defeat Chillicothe 47-40 in December, a chance to build some momentum. Hit both free throws to be within seven points and then score when it got the ball first in the last frame and the gap could be only four.
When Joe Sollars hit the first free throw after several bounces off the iron and the second swished, it appeared KHS had taken care of the first half of that equation. However, the official positioned to watch for it ruled Sollars either had had the tip of his right sneaker on the foul line as he attempted the second try or had crossed the line before the ball reached the basket, a violation which negated the would-be point. A review of game video did not seem to indicate either had actually occurred, but Kirksville’s coaching staff did not question the call.
So, it seemed Chillicothe would at least hold the 8-points edge after three quarters, but that’s when Montgomery made his brief presence known.
Jack Willard accepted the backcourt in-bounds pass and dribbled quickly to midcourt before firing a pass to Montgomery. Knowing the buzzer was set to sound, the junior quickly jumped and sent a high-arching shot toward the basket from about 25 feet away between the top of the key and the right sideline. Before the ball reached the basket, the horn blared, but when Montgomery’s shot banked off the backboard and cleanly down through the net, Chillicothe had indeed moved its lead to 11, 34-23, after three.
“How big is that shot now?” Cool acknowledged after the 2-points win.
“…I told him in the locker room I was really glad he was able to dress out.”
The coach said the backup’s taking and hitting the rushed shot did not surprise him.
“Hayden’s that type of player,” Cool commented. “He’s always ready and he’s pretty clutch because he’s just so steady and calm. … He doesn’t show any stress out there on the floor.”
Having made his shot – and left his mark on the game – the junior resumed his seat on the sidelines for the rest of the contest, watching his teammates extend their 2016-17 at least three more days.
CHS (15-10) advances to Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal contest against St. Joseph: Lafayette (13-10).
The defending district champion and top seed and last year’s state runnerup had a first-round bye in the 6-teams tourney. It defeated the Hornets in Chillicothe by 15 not quite two weeks ago, but the Hornets were within four at halftime, giving the underdogs some cause for optimism in the forthcoming rematch.
“Lafayette’s really good, but our guys will show up and be ready to play,” proclaimed Cool.
“The top five teams – are capable of beating anybody in the tournament at any time.”
The arc of Saturday’s game provided Chillicothe a chance to relive its December loss at Kirksville, but change the ending.
Less than a week before Christmas, the Hornets led most of the first 24 minutes and were in front by a few points after three periods. However, they scored only two points in the last stanza and lost.
This time, the Hornets used a 12-0 stretch in the second and third quarters, spiced by Jack Willard treys 35 seconds apart and Ben Jones’ “alley-oop” three-points play off a Willard pass 10 seconds into the second half, to take a 26-13 lead. Chillicothe held the Tigers to only two points the last 9:20 of the first half.
When CHS rebuffed a couple of Kirksville efforts to get a serious rally going and still had a 42-33 lead with 1:45 remaining in th game, the Hornets looked to be almost home free.
Only almost, though.
A 9-2 Tigers spurt shriveled the CHS lead to two with seven seconds left before junior Willard cemented his team’s 15th victory with two free throws with four ticks left on the clock, making it a 4-point game.
Statistically, Chillicothe had Willard lead its scoring with 14 points. Walker Graves had 10, six of those in the last period. The Hornets shot well, making 54 percent from the floor overall and five of eight outside the arc.
Kirksville (16-8) had its season, which included winning the North Central Missouri Conference crown, conclude with a poor shooting performance. It unofficially made only 40 percent of its field-goal attempts, including merely one of seven 3-points tries. They needed nine second-chance points (off offensive rebounds) and 50 percent CHS free-throw shooting to be in contention in the stretch.
The Tigers got 13 points by Lane Kephart and 11 from Tanner Schilling.
Both teams were lax in ball security. Chillicothe had 18 turnovers and Kirksville unofficially 19.