Treys-fueled first-ever win over East Buchanan Friday in Bishop LeBlond Holiday Classic came by 42-41 final. Hoops Hornets, 10-1, take on 9-1 Mid-Buchanan tonight at 8:30 at St. Joseph
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — To reach Saturday’s championship game of the 70th-annual Bishop LeBlond Holiday Classic tournament, the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets had to find a way past a star player and tall, talented foe it had not previously beaten in four prior-year meetings.
When they did so by the skin of their teeth, 42-41, Friday, they earned the right to play an opponent to whom they have not lost in three prior clashes.
Friday’s thrilling triumph over East Buchanan, in which the 10-1 Hornets led 14-6 early, then trailed 28-20 at halftime and 35-29 a couple of minutes into the final period before rallying behind four 3-pointers, advanced them to tonight’s 8:30 p.m. title battle with Mid-Buchanan’s 9-1 Dragons.
Mid-Buchanan, its school-district offices at Faucett, south of St. Joseph, but the school actually located a few miles northwest of Faucett, just west of the hamlet of Willow Brook, nipped host St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond 57-56 a couple of hours after Chillicothe’s win. Bishop LeBlond missed a shot just ahead of the buzzer. Hunter Scaggs and Drew Boller combined for 25 ponts for Mid-Buch.
The MBHS’ Dragons’ only loss to date this season was an impressive 11-points loss to Class 4 power and Midland Empire Conference kingpin St. Joseph: Lafayette at St. Joseph.
Chillicothe’s lone setback was by a point to Platte County in the championship game of the early-season Savannah Invitational Tournament.
That contest at Savannah was the Hornets’ latest unsuccessful attempt to win a tournament title game. They’ve had several such chances the past few years, but have not been able to end the program’s 12-plus-years drought between tourney crowns. The CHS boys’ last such championship came in the 2005 Class 4 district tournament at Excelsior Springs.
This year’s Hornets will take a second crack at unlocking the championship combination after a pulsating duel with East Buchanan’s talented Bulldogs and their 6’6” sophomore star Ethan Kilgore.
“I just feel like what a privilege it is for me to be able to coach them and to be able to have that seat for that game,” Tim Cool, Chillicothe head coach, summed up his feelings in a broadcast interview after Friday’s conquest. “That was a great game.”
With 6’2” Westley Brandsgaard, CHS’ own sophomore standout, assigned to the EBHS standout who had riddled the Bulldogs’ first-round foe for six treys and 36 points, but the rest of the Hornets on orchestrated high alert to assist Brandsgaard, Chillicothe managed to limit Kilgore to 13 points and three trifectas.
“Wes guarded their best player and did a great job on him, but his teammates were there, helping him, the whole time,” Cool disclosed. “It was defense by committee.”
Expanded the coach later, “Our defense kept it close and our offense made just enough shots to win the game.”
Even with its success in moderating Kilgore, CHS needed uncharacteristic long-range shooting success to prevail.
Entering the action shooting under 29 percent from outside the 3-point line, the Hornets drilled nine of 18 such attempts against a couple of different EBHS zone defenses and, on what turned out to be the game’s winning shot, man-to-man.
After battling back from the 8-points halftime deficit to get within 30-29 late in the third period, Chillicothe saw Kilgore beat the buzzer off a baseline in-bounds play with his third trey for a 33-29 Bulldogs lead going to the fourth. Owen Fortney then upped the lead to five with 6:40 remaining.
Not yet desperate, but clearly feeling urgency, the Hornets used a short, sizzling stretch to turn the tide its way.
After failing to score for over four minutes following Jonathan Burk’s low-post shot that had brought them within one in the third stanza, the Hornets found senior point guard Jack Willard open in transition after a takeaway and his bomb blew the invisible lid off the CHS basket.
About a minute after that trey, Brandsgaard launched and hit from about 23 feet outside the top of the key. Just like that, the game was tied at 35-all.
On the next Chillicothe possession, another sophomore, C.J. Pfaff, was found all alone by a kickout pass from post player Walker Graves and he too was dead-on from beyond the arc. With their third triple in less than two minutes, the Hornets had gone from six down to three up with about 3:15 left.
“Found some great shots late in the game against their 2-3 zone that gave us that lead,” Cool praised his players’ offensive patience and execution.
Two Fortney free throws carved the lead down to one about a half-minute later, but neither club scored for about 90 seconds until Pfaff made the front end of a bonus free-throw opportunity.
When he missed the second attempt, East Buchanan rebounded and went to work quickly on offense.
After about 20 seconds, Seth Kenagy took a psss outside the 3-point stripe and, as a Hornet ill-advisedly rushed him too hard, not only hit a go-ahead shot, but was fouled. He knocked down the free throw for his 10th point of the night and the Bulldogs took a 41-39 lead into the final minute of regulation time.
While the 4-point play might have stunned Chillicothe as it was unfolding, with quick instructions from Cool, it showed quick recovery skills.
As Kenagy prepared for his foul shot, the Chillicothe coach signalled to his players to run a planned fast-break play if the free throw was made.
When it was, the Hornets quickly in-bounded the ball and, before East Buchanan could deploy any backcourt pressure or get fully aligned in the man-to-man defense it wanted to switch into, fed the ball into the forecourt to Brandsgaard.
Although a Bulldog got near him to defend the shot, Brandsgaard quickly set his feet deep on the right wing and fired in his fourth trey in only five attempts in the game. With about 55 seconds left, it was Chillicothe back in front by one.
“After they made their free throw, we ran a little sideline (fast) break,” Cool revealed, post-game. “He was just in rhythm and in range. … I trust him completely to look at the rim every time he catches the ball.”
East Buchanan calmly worked in its offense, obviously preferring to try to create an opportunity for Kilgore to shoot or draw a foul. However, the CHS defense blanketed him and forced EBHS to use nearly all of the remaining time before firing a well-guarded shot in the last five seconds.
It missed and Pfaff was in the right spot to clear away the rebound. Fouled with 1.4 seconds left, he could not get this bonus-chance first free throw to fall and the Bulldogs called timeout virtually instantaneously as they secured the rebound.
From their defensive baseline with a mere 1.1 seconds to go and with a “spot” throw-in, Cool and his coaching staff smartly inserted the 6’7” Burk to block the vision and passing path of the East Buchanan player throwing the ball in. As a result, the in-bounds pass had to go around Burk to near the sideline at midcourt.
From there, the desperate shot hit around the top of the backboard and bounced harmlessly away, letting Chillicothe claim its first win over East Buchanan in five tries over the past seven years in the LeBlond-hosted tourney.
Said Cool of the strategy for the play, “We just had to make sure we didn’t foul anybody. That would have been the one thing we couldn’t do.”
With the last-gasp miss, East Buchanan finished the game with only 13 second-half points and only one field goal in the last 6-1/2 minutes.
“Our guys guarded so well,” the Hornets coach saluted his squad’s strong-as-usual defensive showing.
Statistically, Brandsgaard's 4-of-5 3-point shooting, 2-of-4 work inside the arc, and perfect 3-of-3 free-throw shooting – he's now up to a scorching 87 percent success rate (40 of 46) at the charity stripe on the season – added up to a game-best 19 points.
Willard's four triples translated to a season-high 12 points. Before going four of seven outside the arc Friday, the senior was making only 21 percent of his tries there.
As a team, the Hornets were very protective of the ball against East Buchanan, committing only five turnovers.