Behind 22 points by Whitney Clampitt, 15 tallies and nine rebounds by Katelyn Parkey, and Hannah Jones' 13 rebounds, CHS girls (25-2) outlast St. Joseph: Lafayette 48-37 Thursday night for Class 4 District 16 championship. State play will begin Tuesday.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — For a third-consecutive year, Chillicothe (Mo.) High School’s basketball Lady Hornets will participate in the state tournament. For the first time, they’ll do so as a Class 4 team.
After fairly-easy back-to-back Class 3 district crowns with, essentially, the same group of players, Chillicothe’s return to the Class 4 ranks this year after a 2-years absence did not change the Lady Hornets’ initial postseason accomplishment.
Thursday night against the St. Joseph: Lafayette Lady Irish in the District 16 Tournament championship contest, the CHS girls trailed for less than four minutes and were in front the rest of the way after scoring the second half’s first points 25 seconds in, eventually outlasting Lafayette 48-37.
“This was a big-time game in a big-time atmosphere against a great team and they battled and fought and came out on top,” Darren Smith, CHS third-year head coach, saluted his players.
“… I said (before the game) 38 (points allowed) was my magic number (to prevail) and we got 37. Pleased as can be about that.”
Chillicothe (25-2) advances to the opening round of the Class 4 state tournament next Tuesday when, at 8 p.m. at Liberty North High School, they’ll take on the District 15 champion – either top-seeded Kansas City: St. Pius X (22-3) or CHS’ Midland Empire Conference compatriot, Smithville (19-7).
“Whoever it is, we’ll give ’em our best shot and see what happens,” commented the Chillicothe head coach.
St. Pius X, which will be heavily favored in Saturday’s clash with Smithville, ended the Lady Hornets’ 2015-16 season with a 52-48 decision in the first round of Class 3 state play en route to a third-place state finish last year and has its two best players from that club still around in talented, 6’2” center Abby Hipp and lightning-quick point guard Antoinette “Toni” Mussorici.
Two years ago, Chillicothe bested St. Pius X 45-40 in the first round of state play.
The District 16 championship game matched two squads highly-familiar with each other. Three Chillicothe senior starters and two for Lafayette had been lineup regulars since the start of their freshman campaigns and, along with other CHS seniors, had been traveling-team teammates in younger days.
This was the team’s seventh meeting of those players’ prep careers with Chillicothe having won the last four since Lafayette had claimed the first two of the 2013-14 season.
The most recent had been to, essentially, decide this season’s MEC championship just over two weeks earlier. It saw host Lafayette pull away from a halftime tie to lead by 11 points early in the fourth quarter, only to be blanked the rest of regulation time. Chillicothe got the game to overtime and then outscored the Lady Irish by eight in OT to clinch at least a share of the league crown, one the Lady Hornets claimed outright in their regular-season finale the next week.
This last meeting between the core groups of the teams followed the mid-February script in many ways, except that the team opening up a multi-possessions lead late in the third quarter and early in the fourth didn’t squander it this time.
Chillicothe, getting all of its points from senior center Katelyn Parkey – including a right-corner trey with a couple of seconds left, departed a back-and-forth quarter No. 1 with a narrow 10-9 lead.
The Lady Hornets widened their margin to 14-9 in the opening minute of the second stanza, but the Lady Irish (15-9) responded with six unanswered tallies and led both at 15-14 and 17-16.
A pair of CHS deuces put the top seed back in front, but Cydney Ezzell’s unexpected 17-footer from the left corner 64 seconds before intermission and fellow senior Amber Kneale’s quick follow shot from the foul line after grabbing a long offensive rebound in the last four seconds sent LHS to the locker room with the upper hand, 21-20.
In a pivotal moment, Chillicothe came out to start the second half with a planned strategy adjustment, one which, although not used long-term, worked well and set the tone for the final 16 minutes.
FIrst, Whitney Clampitt made a steal on Lafayette’s opening possession, was fouled by Kneale as she unsuccessfully attempted a layup, and converted both free throws – putting CHS on top to stay, it turned out. That created the opportunity for the strategic ploy to be implemented.
The Lady Hornets jumped into a 1-2-1-1 or diamond-and-1, full-court zone press, and caught off-guard, Lafayette threw a soft pass the dynamic Clampitt darted in to swipe again. With a dribble or two, she stopped and hit a 4-footer.
Again, the Lady Irish in-bounded the ball, but could not get it across midcourt with Chillicothe stealing it. Although the Lady Hornets didn’t convert for points this time, they had succeeded in accelerating the game’s pace and jumping themselves into a higher, more-comfortable gear.
“I kind of saved that until the second half,” Smith said, acknowledging the timing prevented Lafayette from using any of its halftime visit to address how to handle the press. “… It just kind of rattled them.”
Over the next several minutes, Lafayette seemed to steady, edging back within a point at 26-25 at mid-quarter, but missing a chance to tie or better when it made only two of four free throws.
It had been about 90 seconds later than that in the Feb. 14 duel that Lafayette had begun what would become a 11-2 surge that turned a 2-points lead into the 11-points margin it gained early in the fourth quarter.
This time, Clampitt and Chillicothe ratcheted up the pressure with a strong ending to the third frame and start to the fourth. It just started a bit sooner.
Less than 15 seconds after LHS’ second free-throw miss prevented the game from being tied, Clampitt zipped past two defenders on a drive from the left wing to score an uncontested layup. A half-minute later, following a Lady Irish miss, Clampitt pulled up in transition and, from about 10 feet away at the right edge of the paint, sank a jumper.
Neither team scored over the next two minutes, but the Lady Hornets got an emotional boost when they halted their brief lull. A missed right-side jumper by Emma Leamer was hauled in underneath on the weak side by Parkey, whose stickback gave CHS the game’s largest lead to that time – 32-25 – with 1:35 to go in the third segment.
That score still stood as the fourth quarter began, but the break in the action didn’t thaw the Lafayette attack.
When, just over a minute into the quarter, Clampitt drove past her defender on the right baseline, then stopped and popped in an 8-footer over 6’2” “help” defender Ashlyn Dotson, Chillicothe had generated an 8-0 run and put Lafayette in nearly the identical spot CHS had been in two weeks before.
Trailing by nine with less than seven minutes of regulation time left and with only four points in 9-plus minutes since intermission, the Lady Irish desperately needed to regenerate their offense, while slowing Chillicothe.
It took the first step tentatively with All-Stater Dotson, already an NCAA Division I signee with Alabama A&M, netting a pair of charity tosses at the 6:27 mark.
The Lady Hornets then stymied their momentum themselves with, uncharacteristically, two missed free throws and a lane violation on a third would-be try.
Maddie Book’s driving deuce reduced Lafayette’s deficit to five, but three CHS free throws in a 15-seconds span seemed destined, perhaps, to blunt the LHS push as the gap went back to eight.
However, the desperation-driven north St. Joseph team wouldn’t back down from the dilemma.
After Tray Byrd’s 17-foot jumper from the key was countered by Clampitt’s layup off a delay-game setup by Parkey, Lady Irish reserve guard Jacee Winn fired and hit from 3-point land at the 3:32 mark.
Neither side scored for nearly 90 seconds – a welcome development for Chillicothe, since it had the 2-possessions lead, but, after CHS hit only one of two foul shots at the 2:05 mark, another LHS backup, Jada Johnson, also rang the downtown bell. With still 1:48 to go, the second seed had scrambled back to within three, 40-37.
At risk of seeing its sizable lead vanish, its excellent season end abruptly without a district title, and the careers of its perhaps-unparalleled (in CHS annals) core group of outstanding seniors conclude without the once-presumed-certain trip to Columbia for state semifinals and finals play, Chillicothe needed to right the listing ship.
It did so, although after an unsteady start.
After running nearly 30 seconds off the clock after Johnson’s triple, Parkey stepped to the foul line for two shots with 1:20 to go. She missed the first, but, with Lafayette perhaps to gain possession if she misfired again, got the second to drop for a 4-points lead.
In the most significant change from the script for the teams’ prior meeting last month, the team with the lead was about to go on a game-ending run, not the one trailing.
A Lafayette pass got away and CHS’ Hannah Jones – who demonized the defensive backboards on the night with 13 grabs – scooped up the loose ball. Before the Lady Irish could chase down the ball enough to foul, nearly 20 seconds had elapsed.
Once again, Chillicothe – contrary to its general practice all season – missed one of its two late free throws, but did manage to bump the lead to five with 59 seconds left.
Han. Jones then made her third shot block of the night – the first by the 5’7” senior had come at the expense of the 6’2” Dotson in a key play in the third quarter – as Byrd tried a driving shot and she grabbed the loose ball. Another LHS foul, this time of Clampitt, turned into two free throws and the margin was three possessions, 44-37, with 51 seconds left.
Clampitt made a steal a few seconds later and was immediately fouled, sinking her seventh and eighth attempts of the game without a miss and Chillicothe was home free.
Statistically, Clampitt fairly quietly amassed a game-high 22 points – all during the last three quarters and including the perfection at the charity stripe. Parkey finished with 15 points after her strong start and, unofficially, also ripped down nine rebounds.
Han. Jones’ relentless rebounding and unexpected shot-swatting were supplemented by overall defensive tenacity that made her “off” night shooting inconsequential.
“I knew she had a lot of rebounds. I didn’t have any idea she had that many,” Smith told the C-T.
Behind her leadership, the Lady Hornets unofficially finished with a 33-22 rebounding advantage. That includes a whopping 19-7 disparity in the second half.
Chillicothe won despite an unsually-cold 3-point shooting performance that, had it been known beforehand, might have persuaded many that it would not prevail. CHS hit only two – both by Parkey in the first quarter – of 13 trey tries.
That the exterior iciness didn’t matter was because of Lafayette’s own shooting difficulties, influenced some by Chillicothe’s defense. LHS shot under 33 percent overall, including merely 20 percent (three of 15) from outside the arc, and did not have a double-digits scorer. Dotson and Byrd shared scoring honors with nine points each.