Down 13 after three quarters, Kansas City: St. Pius X's furious finish overtakes CHS 54-53 in Class 4 state tournament sectional-round game Tuesday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

LIBERTY, Mo. — One of the primary plot lines of the state-tournament battles between Chillicothe High School’s basketball Lady Hornets and Kansas City: St. Pius X’s Lady Warriors each of the past two years had been “the comeback.”

Each time, the team which led the most time – St. Pius X by a 14-minutes margin in 2015 and CHS by more than seven a year ago – ended up on the short end of the final score.

Those turnarounds proved to be nothing compared to Tuesday’s proceedings in Liberty North High’s fieldhouse.

In startling fashion, despitetrailing for more than 28 minutes after Chillicothe began the game on an 11-0 blitz, St. Pius X’s 54-53 triumph kept that rally thread going.

While each head coach likely had used the comebacks of the two prior contests to reassure their respective squads in practices leading up to Tuesday night’s third sectional-round clash in three years that there would be no reason to panic if it fell behind, it’s doubtful CHS head coach Darren Smith would have willingly traded places with SPX counterpart Bob Fenzel with only one quarter remaining in their latest duel.

Having raced to a 11-0 lead in the game’s first four minutes, Chillicothe saw what had been a double-digits lead for most of the next 21⁄2 quarters grow to 13 points, 42-29, after time expired in the third frame when Karson Keithley, Lady Hornets senior point guard, inexplicably was fouled as she attempted a running 27-footer at the buzzer and she swished all three foul shots.

Given a choice at that moment, Smith doubtless would have declined to accept the role of the coach needing to rally his team from its largest deficit of the game in only eight minutes and Fenzel gladly would have been willing to try to protect such a margin.

However, against very long odds, this third postseason meeting between programs which, after next year, will be in the same conference and meet every regular season traveled the same path to its unlikely finish.

"We couldn't get stops,” Smith tried to explain the shocking reversal of fortunes. “… They found something that was working and I couldn't figure out what to do to stop it."

After Whitney Clampitt’s right-corner trey began the game’s scoring 45 seconds after the opening tip, the Lady Hornets didn’t face a deficit until only 2:04 remained. Antoinette Mussorici’s floater after a drive along the right baseline fell through, giving the KC team a 46-44 advantage.

Although it had two or three possessions with a chance to tie or regain the lead in the final 124 ticks of the Liberty North High School fieldhouse scoreboard clock, Chillicothe could never erase its small deficit, even when – three times in a row in the last minute – St. Pius X made only one of two free throws.

Finally, with 10 seconds left and a 3-points SPX lead, Lady Warrior Olivia Ervie shut the door by hitting her second foul shot after missing the first.

With CHS out of timeouts, its only, faint chance was to score in any way within three or four seconds. Any longer than that and St. Pius X could let time run out without having to put the ball back in play.

With moderate defensive pressure, the Lady Warriors forced Chillicothe to catch the ball deep in its backcourt. K. Keithley dribbled up the right sideline, knowing the ticking clock meant her team’s only hope now was to hit a 3-pointer and hope the Kansas City team would have someone foul on the attempt. Not surprisingly, none guarded her close enough to make contact and, with a second left, all the Lady Hornet could do was fire a meaningless trey which, while perfect, merely made the final margin one point and not four.

Chillicothe’s numbing loss ended its outstanding 2016-17 season with a 25-3 record. SPX, last year’s third-place finisher in Class 3 after eliminating CHS, moves on to face Kansas City: Center in this year’s Class 4 quarterfinals at 24-3.

Tuesday’s game also concluded the exceptionally-successful careers of CHS’ core group of senior standouts which had hoped to add to the 94 victories it had generated in its remarkable four seasons (see story at right). "It's really disappointing to go out right now when we had expectations to play Saturday," Smith described, referencing the scheduled quarterfinal game.

"They gave everything had. They fought and fought and fought all night long. They've got to come out of here with their heads held high."

From the Lady Hornets’ perspective, advancement to the quarterfinals for a second time in three years had seemed like an ever-increasing prospect as Tuesday’s game unfolded.

After St. Pius X’s Hipp controlled the opening tip and the Lady Warriors failed to score, Clampitt came open on the far right side and, accepting K. Keithley’s pass, buried a trey on CHS’ first shot to set the tone.

After a quick SPX turnover, All-Stater Clampitt rushed the ball up the floor and, in a 2-on-2 situation, got to the paint where she hit a 6-foot runner. Next time upcourt, the Fort Hays State University recruit drove past her defender from the left wing to the baseline, then, as Hipp stepped over to cut off her path to the rim, slipped a pass inside to Maggie Leatherman for a wide-open 7-footer she sank. Less than two minutes into the contest most were expecting to be relatively nip-and-tuck, Chillicothe led 7-0, prompting Fenzel to take a timeout.

The stoppage had no impact, though, as the CHS defense and St. Pius X’s mis-aimed shooting continued to keep a bagel on the SPX side of the board. As the mid-point of the opening stanza neared, with her teammates having all floated toward the perimeter, drawing their defenders with them, K. Keithley blew past her guard to the right baseline for a completely-uncontested layup and a 9-0 Chillicothe cushion.

Neither club scored for nearly the next two minutes, but, when the freeze thawed, it was the Lady Hornets continuing to bring the heat.

Leatherman seized the carom of a teammate’s miss – one of the largely-unsung, undersized senior post player’s four rebounds in the game – and fed the ball to Clampitt nearer the hoop. Hipp got a piece of the attempted second shot, but the lithe, quick-jumping CHS player grabbed the rock again and went back up and scored before Hipp could react a second time. With 21⁄2 minutes left in quarter No. 1, both to their foe and their own fans’ surprise, the Lady Hornets owned an 11-0 lead on the highly-regard Lady Warriors.

Even when St. Pius X finally found the right combination to unlock the lid on their basket as Hipp scored from the right low post about 20 seconds later, the rampaging CHS girls were unfazed.

Patiently executing their offense, they shook senior Hannah Jones free for a shot from outside the arc to the right of the key to widen its lead to 12. When the squads swapped deuces in the last 1:15 of the frame, Chillicothe toted a highly-surprising 16-4 lead into the second stanza.

The Lady Hornets quickly resumed their onslaught following the break, seizing what would stand as the game’s largest lead – 14 points – twice in the first three minutes of the next segment.

First, Clampitt drove through the paint to score 15 seconds into the second frame. Then, K. Keithley swept from the left wing into the lane and to the rim to make it 20-6 with 5-1⁄2 minutes to go in the opening half.

Even as a Natalie Denzer triple at the 4:56 mark of the quarter signalled an awakening of the SPX attack, at last, a pair of deuces by Katelyn Parkey – like Han. Jones and Clampitt, a full-time starter since the beginning of their freshman years – and two Clampitt charity tosses allowed Chillicothe to reach its locker room at halftime up by 10, 26-16.

After being kept off the scoresheet in the first half, junior Mussorici started to warm a bit as the second half opened, but all that did was essentially have her team keep pace with the inspired CHS squad.

Getting six more Clampitt markers, Chillicothe had a 39-27 lead when a driving Mussorici drew K. Keithley’s third foul with four seconds remaining in the third quarter. Netting both tries, the SPX point guard seemed to give her team a potential lift by narrowing the gap to 10 with SPX due to get possession of the ball to start the fourth.

However, K. Keithley’s hard push of the ball up the floor ended with Mussorici ill-advisedly being called for a foul as the Lady Hornet fired a 25-foot shot off the glass at the buzzer. Given three free throws with time expired, K. Keithley smoothly netted all three and Chillicothe had a 13-points margin with one quarter to go.

It didn’t matter, though.

A Hipp three-points play 27 seconds into the fourth was answered a half-minute later by K. Keithley’s scoring drive down the lane from the key, but that would be CHS’ only tallies in the first 6:05 of the closing segment. Two more Hipp deuces and one by Mussorici cut the CHS lead to six. Left all alone, SPX forward Alaina Malott – the only reserve her team used – pumped in a right-wing triple at the 3:30 mark to halve the deficit to three.

Next possession, Denzer pulled up from her dribble at the right of the key and nailed her own trey, knotting things at 44-44 with 2:48 left. With Chillicothe staying stuck at 44, Mussorici’s right-baseline drive pushed her team ahead for the first time. It stayed there.

"That's me not getting our rotations right,” Smith said of the fourth-quarter eruption by St Pius X. “I'll have to watch the (video) to see what it was.

"… I have 15 girls in that locker room that have given everything imaginable to get to this point and … I'm proud as all get-out,” the veteran coach, in his third year leading the CHS girls, added. “I couldn't be any more proud and I feel bad because I feel like I let them down."

Statistically, Clampitt's 19 points for CHS and Hipp's 19 for the winners led the scoring. Clampitt was joined in twin digits by K. Keithley with 15 – 11 in the second half, and Parkey with 10.

Mussorici ended up with 13. Seven of those came in the last 4:15 after, with CHS still up by eight, she sustained an apparent hand or wrist injury in a battle for a loose ball and left the game for medical attention. After missing just over a minute, she returned with the score still 44-36 and, within 15 seconds, scored the first two of those seven late tallies.

Like CHS, St. Pius X had a third scorer in dual digits. Denzer netted 10, including her second triple of the game to tie the score at 44-all with 2:48 remaining.

Both teams were very good at the free-throw line, especially through three quarters. Chillicothe finished 10 of 12 (83 percent), hitting all eight of its tries through three frames. St. Pius X netted 15 of 20 (75 percent) overall, going nine of 13 during its near-miraculous rally.

Among other, unofficial statistics, most – including shooting percentages, rebounds, and turnovers – were even or nearly so. The widest disparity was in assists, in which the north Kansas City Catholic school’s squad had eight and CHS five. That, in part, stemmed from Chillicothe’s planned – and largely-effective – strategy of spacing the floor well and using the driving ability of several players to get to the basket for 1-on-1 shots.

(G) KC: ST. PIUS X 54, CHILLICOTHE 53

(CHS statistics as kept by coaches; opponent scoring, shooting statistics as kept by Randy Dean, KCHI Radio; opponent non-shooting team statistics as kept by C-T)

Chillicothe 16 10 16 11 – 53

St. Pius X 4 12 13 25 – 54

CHILLICOTHE (25-3): Han. Jones 2(1) FG(3), 1-2 FT, 4 F, 6 Pts.; Har. Jones 0, 0-0, 0, 0; Clark 0, 0-0, 1, 0; K. Keithley 5(1), 4-4, 4, 15; Clampitt 7(1), 4-4, 3, 19; Reeter 0, 0-0, 0, 0; Leamer 0, 0-0, 0, 0; Leatherman 1, 1-2, 4, 3; Parkey 5, 0-0, 4, 10. Totals 20(3), 10-12, 20, 53.

ST. PIUS X (24-3): Mussorici 4, 5-6, 2, 13; Hipp 8, 3-4, 2, 19; Denzer 3(2) 2-2, 2, 10; Ervie 0, 2-4, 0, 2; Mallott 2(1), 0-0, 3, 5; Hayes 1, 3-4, 2, 5. Totals 18(3), 15-20, 11, 54.

FG% – Chillicothe 44% (17-33 2s, 3-12 3s), St. Pius X 45% (15-32 2s, 3-8 3s). Rebounds – Chillicothe 26 (8 off.) (Han. Jones 8, Parkey 6), St. Pius X 23 (4 off.). Turnovers – Chillicothe 5, St. Pius X 4. Assists – Chillicothe 5 (K. Keithley 3, Clampitt 2), St. Pius X 8 (Mussorici 4).