Will face St. Joseph: Lafayette tomorrow, seeking third-straight state-tourney berth

CAMERON, Mo. — To absolutely no one’s surprise, Chillicothe High School’s basketball Lady Hornets will play for the Class 4 District 16 Tournament crown and a third-consecutive appearance in the state tournament tomorrow evening.
The Lady Hornets (24-2) took care of business in highly-efficient and matter-of-fact fashion Tuesday, scoring the game’s first four points, 13 of the first 15, and then reeling off uninterrupted scoring skeins of 18 and 11 points in the second and third quarters, respectively, as they riddled Savannah 59-25 in the tourney’s semifinals.
When St. Joseph: Lafayette (15-8) pulled away from injury-impaired crosstown rival Benton in the fourth quarter to win an offensive slog 38-30 in the subsequent semifinals, a pairing of the tourney’s Nos. 1 and 2 seeds for Thursday’s 6 p.m. championship game was locked in.
It will match teams which battled into overtime 16 nights before with Chillicothe, after erasing a double-digits fourth-quarter deficit with the last 11 tallies of regulation time, eventually claiming a 57-49 verdict.
“Lafayette’s really good defensively, but has more offensive firepower,” Darren Smith said in a post-game interview, comparing the two St. Joseph teams.
That CHS conquest clinched the Midland Empire Conference crown. At stake this time will be a district diadem and, should the Lady Hornets capture it, their first Class 4 state tourney appearance ever.
CHS’ girls made the Class 3 field each of the past two years and the Class 3A tourney five straight times in the early and mid 1990s, as well as in 1982, when current freshman team coach Margie (Ellison) Albertson and Julie (Radcliff) Bothwell, coach of Class 1 state-tourney qualifier Southwest Livingston, were key members of the Lady Hornets roster.
In the Feb. 14 game between Chillicothe and the host Lady Irish, with the conference title likely awaiting the victor, Lafayette gained what seemed like an iron grip on what had been a close game when, with highly-effective ball movement and near-flawless shooting late in the third stanza and early in the fourth, it established a 43-32 advantage with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter.
However, eschewing the attacking mindset which had led to it opening the big lead, Lafayette did not score again in regulation time and Chillicothe caught up with about two minutes still left.
After the Lady Hornets ran off most of the final 90 seconds, but then didn’t get a decent shot away in an attempt for a last-seconds win, they pulled away in the overtime with very good free-throw shooting. They hit 19 of 23 from the line in the game.
Overall, each team’s offense was paced by its top player. For Chillicothe, Whitney Clampitt fired in 21 points and Lady Irish center Ashlyn Dotson 23.
The ultimate difference was CHS getting 16 from Hannah Jones and 10 by Katelyn Parkey, while Lafayette had no other twin-digits scorers.
In Tuesday night’s semifinals, the points came free and easy for Chillicothe and like removing an impacted wisdom tooth for the Lady Irish. The saving grace for Lafayette was that Benton, missing multiple players due to serious late-season injuries, could rarely get the ball in the basket.
After Parkey started the scoring in the Lady Hornets’ game with a free throw, fellow senior Karson Keithley knocked down the first of three CHS 3-pointers in the opening frame for a 4-0 Chillicothe lead.
After Savannah (10-15) got on the scoreboard, Hannah Jones (five) and K. Keithley teamed to produce a 9-0 CHS surge and a 13-2 lead.
The squads played evenly the rest of the opening stanza, Savannah having surprising long-range shooting success with three triples of its own.
Maggie Leatherman’s right-elbow jumper began the next segment’s scoring, but SHS junior Anna Hill’s third trifecta of the first approximately nine minutes of action edged the Lady Savages within 10.
Instead of being flustered, the CHS girls simply tightened the defensive screws and put their latest victory away.
“Focus is a key, keeping your focus and intensity,” Smith said, explaining how this year’s Lady Hornets have avoided having trouble with outmanned foes. “They understand what it takes.”.
They closed the opening half with the run of 18 consecutive tallies for a 42-14 lead, then answered Savannah’s only field goal in a stretch of 18-plus minutes with an 11-0 surge which had the game in “running-clock” mode the entire fourth quarter.
Statistically, Chillicothe’s three guards divvied up 38 markers pretty much evenly. Han. Jones had 14 and K. Keithley and Whitney Clampitt 12 each.
Hill paced Savannah with nine with her trio of early treys.
CHS senior post player Maggie Leatherman led her team with seven rebounds and her tough interior defense, which often prevents opponents from having easy entry passes to the post, thus creating more of the longer perimeter passes the team’s quick guards can deflect or steal outright, again was in evidence, Smith pointed out.
“Her rebounding and defense has been phenomenal,” he said.
In Lafayette’s victory last night, it trailed 5-3 after a snail’s-paced first quarter and, with Dotson in foul trouble, led by only three at the half, 17-14.
After another scarce-scoring stanza sent the game to the fourth with LHS up 24-18, Benton scored the first three points of the final quarter and had the ball with a chance to tie.
It didn’t cash in, though, and Lafayette scored on several possession in a row, eventually netting 10 unanswered points to gain separation.
Point guard Tray Bird, much quicker than any Benton defender, had a big scoring night, tallying 17 points. She made all nine of her free throws.