CHS blazes from the deep in first half, but eventually flames out in 2016-17 season-ending 71-55 loss to top-seeded St. Joseph: Lafayette Tuesday in Class 4 District 16 Tournament
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — Like a shooting star, the Chillicothe High School and senior guard Zach Trout lit up the night from far away in the first half of Tuesday’s night’s game against the St. Joseph: Lafayette Fighting Irish.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, the fate of a shooting star is a limited lifespan and eventual disintegration as the space rock hurtles down through the earth’s thick atmosphere.
From Chillicothe’s perspective, it sure was fun while it lasted, but, in the end, all that remains is a memory.
Trout rained in five second-period treys to put the upset-minded Hornets only three points behind top-seeded and defending Class 4 District 16 champion Irish at halftime. However, after the north St. Joseph squad tallied five points in barely the first minute of the second half, Chillicothe never had the ball with a chance to tie or lead after halftime and, eventually, fell by a 71-55 count, ending the Hornets’ 2016-17 season.
“That was an amazing effort. … They play so hard together, so hard for each other,” Tim Cool, Chillicothe head coach, declared in a post-game broadcast interview.
“We just had a bunch of guys tonight who really stepped up when we needed them and just played great all night long.”
A CHS campaign which began with three starters to be replaced – two of them 3-years starters and 4-years lettermen – and ended with the top returning starter restricted to spectating for the last month by a knee injury nevertheless concluded with Chillicothe on the high side of .500. The Hornets’ fourth winning year in a row after a stretch of 8-straight non-winning seasons (one ended at .500) wrapped up with a 15-11 record.
Lafayette (14-10) goes on to face crosstown rival Benton for the district championship Friday. Second-seeded Benton turned Savannah 56-45 in Tuesday’s later game.
Tuesday’s semifinal contest between Chillicothe and Lafayette largely followed the pattern of their regular-season meeting in Chillicothe Feb. 14.
In that one, the Hornets were down by four at the half and still on the fringe of contention after three quarters, trailing by nine, before the Fighting Irish won by a mid-teens margin.
With more marbles on stake this time, Chillicothe used torrid perimeter marks-manship and Lafayette’s relatively-cool shooting from mid- and long range to have Hornets fans buzzing through the halftime break and dreaming upset.
Although they never led and were tied only at 2-2 after freshman Westley Brandsgaard’s driving deuce just over two minutes into the action, the Hornets kept Lafayette from streaking out to a big early lead, then stormed back behind the pinpoint sniping of senior Trout.
With the Irish up 21-13 2-1⁄2 minutes into the second quarter, Trout caught Hayden Montgomery’s pass in the left corner and arched in a triple. Exactly a minute later, following an Irish deuce, Trout escaped his defender and, accepting Jack Willard’s pass, launched from left of the key and again tickled the twine, making it 23-19.
Following a defensive stop, Trout once more lost his man and, fed this time by Adler Marshall, buried another from downtown, this time at quarter-court on the left side. In a span of 1:40, he’d cut Chillicothe’s deficit to a point.
Lafayette accepted the challenge, Sterling Hicks banking in a triple from atop the key on the next possession and then Ike Book sinking a driving floater in the paint to stretch the lead back to six.
Undaunted, Trout filtered to the left corner as Brandsgaard drove the right baseline and, taking the frosh’s quick pass along the baseline, found the mark a fourth time in 3:05, slashing the LHS lead in half.
The Hornets’ defense then held, momentarily creating a possession which could have afforded a chance to tie the game, but Irish reserve D’Karee Gray’s steal and layup thwarted it.
Two more LHS buckets around a Willard teardrop finish off the rebound of his own missed driving shot had Chillicothe trailing 34-27 with 90 seconds remaining in the first half. The Hornets used that time well.
First, Trout threw off the Irish by working to get free on the right side of the court for a change. The results were the same, however, as Willard found the senior guard to the right of the key and Trout did the rest.
“You could not ask for a tougher, more-gritty performance than we got out of Zach,” lauded Cool.
Then, following Book’s two free throws in the 1-and-1 with 48 seconds to go in the half, Chillicothe got a final possession in the closing seconds. Willard rushed the ball to mid-court, then flipped ahead to Montgomery, whose buzzer-beating, banked triple from the right side to end the third quarter had been a key moment in CHS’ quarterfinals win last Saturday.
Montgomery caught the pass, turned, and flicked the ball toward the basket about 23 feet away from the left sideline. With two seconds on the Cameron High School gym clock, this one also glanced off the glass and down through the ring, leaving Chillicothe within 36-33 as it went to the locker room.
As CHS fans awaited during intermission the resumption of play, the thought was, “Would the odds catch up to the Hornets in the second half and they’re shooting touch would disappear, or was this destined to be a magical night with a fairytale ending?”
As the final score testifies, there was no happy ending for Chillicothe, but not really because their shooting luck from long distance deserted them.
Instead, it was a lack of opportunities to shoot the momentum-energizing 3-ball that disappeared as Lafayette defended harder on the wings, thus preventing the Hornets – and Trout – from getting looks like they had in the second quarter. Chillicothe attempted fewer than five 3-pointers in the last half and a couple of them were semi-desperation attempts late.
With the weapon that had generated nearly two-thirds of their points in the first half having disintegrated, the Hornets were left to try to score taking the ball to the basket and either shooting or trying to dish off as a defender neared. However, Lafayette’s superior size and quickness led to missed shots and a bevy of turnovers – some giveaways and many LHS steals.
From the 6-minutes mark of the third quarter, after Marshall’s bucket drew the Hornets back within 41-37, to the end of the third quarter, the Fighting Irish outscored Chillicothe 10-3. An 8-2 mini-burst by the top seed through the middle section of the last quarter jumped the lead up to 15 with 2:40 remaining and the outcome was determined.
Statistically, Chillicothe was led by Trout’s 19 points as he hit five of eight from beyond the arc and both of his 2-point tries in his final high school game.
Three players who, presumably, will return with the 2017-18 season also scored well. Junior Marshall, who clearly boosted his offensive game in the last month of the season, had 10 off the bench, classmate Willard tallied nine, and frosh Brands-gaard – grandson of Trenton High hoops legend Russell Bland and nephew of former CHS All-State center Justin Bland – had seven.
“Adler played big,” the Chillicothe coach concurred, adding, aware that he played only two seniors Tuesday, “I’m looking for big things next year out of the guys we have coming back.”
Lafayette, last year’s state runnerup and better than its record from a highly-challenging regular-season schedule would suggest, was led in scoring by the 16 points of both Book and mercurial Trey Washington, who was all over the court as a rebounder and ball thief. Hicks and Caleb Bennett tacked on 13 each.
Said Cool of Brandsgaard’s defensive performance in helping hold Bennett to only six points through three quarters, “Westley’s 14 years old. He’s a freshman in high school and he’s out there guarding a guy that, next year at this time, that kid is in (NCAA) Division I basketball … and Westley guarded him all night long.”