Usher in 2018 play with dominating wins over Lawson; head now to conference play

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Facing opponents with very similar records to their own Tuesday night suggested beforehand the Chillicothe (Mo.) High School basketball Hornets and Lady Hornets would be in for tough games which likely would not be settled until the final minute or minutes.
With solid performances that featured strong rebounding and suffocating defense on their home floor, the CHS squads moved their respective records to season bests with a 43-25 varsity girls’ triumph and 48-27 varsity boys’ victory over non-conference foe Lawson.
The outcomes lifted the Lady Hornets’ mark two games over .500 at 6-4 and the Hornets’ to 12-1, both season-bests, in terms of winning percentage. Lawson’s Cardinals slipped to 9-2 and the Lady Cardinals to 4-7.
CHS’ boys thus will take a 9-games winning streak into their Midland Empire Conference opener at St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond Thursday and the girls a 4-games skein into their 2017-18 MEC debut – alao against Bishop LeBlond – at home Friday.
Tuesday games had similar threads which eventually were woven into wins by the hosts.
Highlighted by senior forward Liberty Cox’s most-scintillating varsity performance to date, the Lady Hornets opened their game on a 13-1 streak and led by double digits from the 6:10 mark of the second stanza on.
Their only half-worrisome moments came late in the third quarter and early in the fourth when, after expanding their lead to 32-14 when Cox set up Hunter Keithley for an easy right-side lay-in just over a minute before the third frame terminated, Lawson outscored CHS 8-2 in just over two minutes to climb back within 12 with nearly seven minutes left.
Chillicothe answered with nine consecutive points and held the guest Lady Cardinals to three free throws and no field goals the rest of the way.
To take charge early on, the CHS girls gave them Liberty, which this night gave Lawson death.
The senior, hampered much of the first month of the season by an ankle sprain sustained in the season-opening loss to Hamilton, was a force in multiple facets of the action in the first half.
She grabbed a couple of early rebounds to set a tone, then converted Jordan Hibner’s pass into a three-points play to make it 10-2, CHS. About a minute later, she was fouled while shooting and sank both charity tosses, leaving her with five points in less than five minutes.
Cox would go on to yank down a handful of rebounds, including a pair off the offensive window, in the first quarter before chipping in two more free throws without a miss and an assist that set up Harlie Jones for a 3-pointer in the second segment.
With Cox having scored seven points and secured five boards, fellow starter Kennedie Kieffer with six tallies and six rebounds, and reserve forward Maggie Pfaff owning another five caroms, Chillicothe’s girls reached intermission in front 24-11 on the scoreboard and, unofficially, with an impressive 25 rebounds (to Lawson’s 13).
When Cox scored another deuce to end a CHS 3-minutes scoring siesta in the middle of the third quarter and, a couple of minutes later, found the unguarded Keithley for her easy shot, Chillicothe looked to be cruising.
Lawson and its fine junior point guard Taylor Dolt tried to run that cruise aground as Dolt knocked down consecutive triples in the first 1:10 of the fourth frame, but that was only a mirage.
Three Keithley layups – two in a row on give-and-go plays with Kieffer – and Kieffer’s three-points play via a putback of her own miss jumped the CHS lead to a game-high 21 points with 3:20 left and the Lady Hornets had secured win No. 6.
Statistically for the Lady Hornets, even in a game in which they held the opponent to a mere 25 points, the biggest number was their unofficial 46 rebounds, 20 of which came on offense. Although Cox settled for six boards after her early dominance around the rim, two teammates got into twin numerals in that statistic. Kieffer snared 11 by C-T count and Pfaff 10.
Scoring-wise, Kieffer’s 11 points not only yielded her a perfectly-balanced scoring-rebounding double-double, but also led balanced Chillicothe. Cox narrowly missed her first-ever double-digits scoring night at the varsity level with nine points, Keithley contributed eight, and Pfaff had seven.
Led by Cox’s 5-of-5 perfection, the Lady Hornets enjoyed prosperity at the foul line, converting 11 of 15 free throws. By comparison, Lawson went five of 14.
Dolt’s 15 points provided 60 percent of the LHS girls’ offense.
Duly impressed by the Lady Hornets’ rebounding and defensive example, the Chillicothe boys adopted the same script to dispatch an opponent with whom they have repeatedly had very, very close games against over the past four or five seasons.
Like the female counterparts, the Hornets scored first and never trailed and enjoyed an uninterrupted twin-figures lead for an extended stretch of play all the way to the final buzzer.
After neither team scored for more than two minutes after the opening tipoff, Westley Brandsgaard’s short-range shot after a head fake and 285-pounds forward Walker Graves’ fast-break layup off a Brandsgaard feed established a 4-0 lead LHS’ Cardinals could never fully erase.
After Lawson used a three-points play to ease to within 7-5 with 2:05 to go in the opening period, Hornet Adler Marshall netted two free throws and then a 17-foot, left-baseline jumper off another Brandsgaard setup to create an 11-5 Chillicothe lead after one.
Lawson would not even match its meager first-period offensive output in the second segment, being throttled by the defensively-dynamic Hornets on only four tallies. Only Chillicothe’s cool shooting, which led it being blanked the first 5:40 of the frame, kept the game competitive. Brandsgaard’s right-side trey off Graves’ inside-outside setup three seconds before halftime sent the clubs to their dressing rooms in a low-scoring 17-9 contest.
That the Hornets were up by eight at the break after going more than eight consecutive minutes between baskets testified to how well they played at the defensive end and how well they rebounded. CHS unofficially had a 17-10 advantage on the glass the first 16 minutes.
While the hosts shook off their offensive doldrums after intermission, they didn’t loosen much their stranglehold on the Cardinals’ attack.
Thwarting Lawson’s hopes of attacking the basket with passes by good on-ball pressure and well-positioned and well-synchronized off-ball guarding that included excellent use of upraised arms to clutter potential passing lanes in the paint, the Hornets didn’t allow consecutive LHS scores all night.
Even with the Cardinals netting twice as many second-half points as first-half, their total still only amounted to a stunning 27 at game’s end. However, that followed in lock-step the type of miserly ways the Hornets have displayed during their 9-games winning streak.
In those nine games, only three times have the foe reached as many as 40 points with the highest total being 49. Holding a team in the 20s, while unusual, isn’t unprecedented for the Hornets during their run; Trenton scored only 26 in its 42-26 home loss to CHS Dec. 7.
For the season, only two opponents have reached 50 points against the Chillicothe boys – Platte County with 50 in its 1-point win in the championship game of the Savannah Invitational Tournament and tomorrow night’s foe – Bishop LeBlond – which fell 66-55 during that same tourney.
With the boys’ game still up for grabs after two quarters despite Lawson’s ultra-low points total, the Hornets, as mentioned, sharpened their sting in the last two frames.
After Lawson tallied first in the third stanza, Konner Sewell’s goal-tended bucket, Marshall’s right-side lay-in off one of Jack Willard’s game-high five assists, and Willard’s fast-break layup after a Graves steal and Marshall pass jumped the CHS advantage up to 23-11.
It stayed in twin digits without exception the last 13 minutes. A Graves basket and two Jonathan Burk free throws closed the third-period scoring for a 33-17 gap. After Marshall’s pass on the press break set up 6’7” senior Burk for a 2-handed flush off the left baseline, two Brandsgaard free throws with 4:39 remaining in the game boosted the lead to 18 for the first time.
Finally, senior reserve guard Hayden Montgomery’s 3-pointer from the left corner and Burk’s fadeway bank shot from near the left block – both off passes from backup guard Isaiah Boon – closed the game with Chillicothe up 21.
Statistically, as with the Chillicothe girls, the Hornets had admirable scoring distribution and balance. Brandsgaard, whose two 3-pointers in five attempts dropped his season percentage to 50 percent (23 of 46) and whose 2-for-2 free-throw shooting raised his season percentage from the stripe to an astounding 88 percent (42 of 48), both led all CHS scorers with a modest 10 points and Hornets rebounders with eight.
Right behind him on the points parade was Marshall with nine, Graves with eight, and Burk and Willard with seven each. Burk also had seven snares – part of 31-20 CHS dominance on the boards – and a couple of shot blocks.
Lawson’s Zach Miller led all scorers with 16 points, but no other Cardinal had more than five.