(Updated 10:30 p.m. Dec. 31) CHS boys win a third-straight tight, defensive duel Saturday, edging Mid-Buchanan 36-35 in championship contest of Bishop LeBlond-hosted event at St. Joseph, Mo. Konner Sewell provides key baskets, teammate Brandsgaard chosen MVP

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — It certainly wasn’t a gorilla on their backs and, given the context, might not even have been a monkey the Chillicothe (Mo.) High School  basketball Hornets were lugging around with them. However, it was a bugaboo and an unmet goal, having not won a tournament championship since the 2005 Class 4 district event.
Saturday night, in a third-straight nailbiter in the 70th-annual Bishop LeBlond Holiday Classic, the Hornets shed it, whatever it was.
In another defense-dictated contest which this time didn’t see either club generate as many as 40 points, the Hornets (11-1) ended 12-plus years of tournament disappointment with a 36-35 triumph over Mid-Buchanan at BLHS’ Bill Grace Gymnasium.
CHS senior guard Konner Sewell’s 3-point shot from the left side with about three minutes remaining snapped a 33-33 deadlock. The only scoring thereafter was a reverse layup by Dragons guard Collin Wyatt after a left baseline drive with 2-1/2 minutes left.
After an offensive foul call against Chillicothe’s Jack Willard with 41 seconds remaining as the Hornets tried to drain the clock, Mid-Buchanan predictably opted to effectively try for a game-winner just ahead of the final horn.
Predictably not finding an easy scoring opportunity as it probed for about 20 seconds, it took another timeout with 20 seconds to go and set its personnel and plan for the final assault.
In keeping with the game’s tenor, Chillicothe denied any penetration of note and effectively denied either Wyatt or top gun Hunter Scaggs access to a pass. When the ball was entered to the right block, good defensive position there prompted a kickout pass to the right corner to sophomore Christian Scaggs.
Aware there were less than five seconds to go, the youngster launched from beyond the 3-point line and drew iron. As the carom bounded high and to the weak side, there to grab it was a teammate, Drew Boller, who had hurt Chillicothe with seven points off the bench in the first half. Boller hurriedly gathered himself and jumped to take about a 7-foot follow shot from left of the paint with Hornet Jack Willard glued to his chest, arm extended straight upward to partially block Boller’s view of the rim.
The putback attempt missed, as well, and this time fell into the hands of Chillicothe’s Walker Graves as the final buzzer blew. After seven fruitless trips to tourney championship games since that 2005 win – three times in district finals and, most recently, in this season’s Savannah Invitational Dec. 2, the Hornets had claimed the crown.
Not only did CHS’ boys earn the title in a tourney in which their trio of triumphs came by an aggregate six points, but they posted their eighth win in succession since falling to Platte County by a point in the Savannah title tilt.
Mid-Buchanan, whose only other defeat this season had been by 11 on powerful St. Joseph: Lafayette’s home floor, slipped to 9-2.
Saturday’s game continued Chillicothe’s trend of tight, low-scoring games in the well-balanced tourney at St. Joseph. Their totals of 53, 42, and 36 points managed to best their foes because they allowed only 49, 41, and 35 markers, respectively.
The championship game saw Mid-Buchanan score first and lead throughout the first half, three times by as many as six points. However, CHS netted the last five tallies of the half on an Adler Marshall free throw, Jonathan Burk putback, and Willard transition drive and headed to the break behind only 20-19.
Ninety seconds into the third period, subsequently-named tournament most valuable player Westley Brandsgaard, the CHS sophomore wing guard, popped in a 3-pointer from quarter-court on the right side to establish the first Hornets lead of the game, 22-21.
Sewell’s press-break layup off a long pass by Willard recreated a 1-point lead a minute later and a subsequent deuce by Brandsgaard made it 26-25 with a couple of minutes left in the third stanza.
Mid-Buchanan once more reclaimed the upper hand by one and had a chance to improve on that as the quarter drew near its end. However, an offensive foul on the Dragons handed the ball back to Chillicothe at the baseline on the MBHS offensive end with 1.2 seconds still on the clock.
That scant amount of time proved enough for the Hornets to go back in front, however.
With the Dragons continuing a full-court press as the teams set for the resumption of play, CHS head coach Tim Cool silently signalled to Sewell, along the sideline in front of the scorer’s bench and team benches, to feint rushing toward the end of the court where teammate Walker Graves waited to make the throw-in, then reverse course and break toward the CHS offensive end. Graves, having also been alertly eyeing his coach following the foul, understood the wordless communication and, accepting the ball from the official, stepped back and fired the ball toward the opposite end of the court where Sewell had outdistanced his defender.
As the ball and Sewell arrived in the paint, a few feet from the CHS bucket, the defender tried to knock the ball away, but the Hornets senior not only cleanly collected it in the bounce, but coolly and calmly reverse-spun back toward the basket and, barely ahead of the horn, angled the sphere softly off the window and down through the netting. The stunning deuce sent Hornets fans into a frenzy and the team into the fourth quarter with extra good vibes and a 28-27 lead.
With the opening possession of the last frame, Chillicothe landed another big blow, this time with Graves and Sewell involved again, aided by Jack Willard.
Working the ball around the perimeter in their normal offense, the Hornets fed the ball to Willard on the left wing while Sewell and another teammate set “down” screens at the foul line as Graves hurried past from the lane to the top of the key. Accepting Willard’s pass, Graves was totally unguarded and fired in a 3-point shot which put his side in front by four.
While Mid-Buchanan eventually managed to draw even on another Wyatt drive along the left baseline with 3:17 left, it never led again after Sewell’s buzzer-beater.
The 33-33 knot Wyatt’s bucket tied set the stage for Sewell to inflict what proved to be an even-more decisive blow.
On the subsequent possession, the Hornets again executed the offense well, this time resulting in the ball coming to the Hornets senior between the left wing and corner and outside the 3-point line.
Having twice before in the game having missed long-range shots and having passed up another opportunity, Sewell heeded his head coach’s earlier admonition to be unafraid to shoot “his shot” – the open trey. His aim was true this time and Chillicothe, it turned out, had the points it needed to prevail and end its long, long tourney-title famine.
Statistically in the low-scoring game, Brandsgaard’s modest 10 points led Chillicothe. Sewell and Graves were next with seven each. Mid-Buchanan’s Wyatt led all scorers with 12 and H. Scaggs added 11.
While the finale didn’t find Brandsgaard scoring big as the Dragons clogged him up for the most part when he attempted to drive and the officials were calling little in the way of fouls on shot attempts, his overall performance throughout the tourney could not be overlooked in the selection process for the all-tournament team and MVP.
The sophomore concluded the three games having sunk eight of 11 3-point-shot attempts, eight of 16 2-point tries, and all seven free throws he earned. It was his 3-pointer with just under a minute left which proved decisive in Friday’s 1-point semifinals triumph over CHS nemesis East Buchanan.
Chillicothe’s boys don’t have much time to savor their crown, returning to action at home Tuesday with a varsity/junior-varsity doubleheader against always-thorny Lawson (9-1).
Beaten only by Mid-Buchanan – by seven, LHS’ Cardinals won a “Holiday Hoops” game at Trenton Friday, topping Lexington 59-46 as Coleman Webber rifled in 25 points and Zach Miller 19.
Chillicothe swamped Lexington by 30 at NCMC Dec. 22.
Tuesday’s varsity boys’ game will be at the high school gym, as usual, but will follow a girls’ varsity/JV twinbill which will start at 4:30 p.m. That likely will put tipoff of the boys’ action at around 7:15 p.m.
The junior-varsity boys’ contest will be at a different site, however – the Chillicothe Middle School fieldhouse. Like the JV girls’ action, it will start at 4:30 p.m.
The CHS boys then will begin Midland Empire Conference play for this season on Thursday as they return to St. Joseph to take on Bishop LeBlond.