CHS makes 25 of 34 to deny game Excelsior Springs 54-44 in first-round play in Cameron Invitational Tournament Tuesday, Jan. 23. Chillicothe boys now 15-2

CAMERON, Mo. — Having incrementally registered an 18-points victory over Excelsior Springs on the Tigers’ home court about a month before, the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets didn’t project to blow out ESHS Tuesday when they met again on a neutral court in the first round of the Cameron Invitational Tournament.
By the same token, they didn’t figure have as much difficulty in gaining their 15th triumph of their highly-impresssive 2017-18 season as they ultimately did.
Second-seeded Chillicothe went from a 1-point lead after one quarter to a 3-points halftime edge and 5-points advantage after three stanzas before wrapping up a 54-44 conquest.
The small-to-modest CHS margins in each period Tuesday followed the pattern of its prior 55-37 triumph over the Tigers. In their Dec. 11 meeting, the Hornets out-scored improving Excelsior Springs by between three and six points each frame to prevail by double figures.
Chillicothe (15-2) didn’t have this one safely deposited in the “wins” column until  a press-break layup by Westley Brandsgaard – his only basket of the game – with 13 seconds again made it a 3-possessions lead, 52-44. A turnover and, fittingly, two Jack Willard free throws with eight seconds left nudged the spread to twin numerals, the only time it was there all night.
“I thought Excelsior came out with a lot of great energy and focus. They were really ready to play,” saluted Tim Cool, Chillicothe head coach.
Reflecting on his own team’s play, he shared, pragmatically, “We’ve got to keep getting better, but we won the game and that’s what we came in here to do.”
The closing foul shots by Willard capped a 25-of-34 performance by CHS at the charity stripe in the heavily-whistled contest. That 74 percent showing by a team which entered hitting at a 68 percent clip was critical – perhaps decisive – to avoidance of the potential shocker.
Within that Hornets showing was an oddity.
Until he got the last-seconds layup, Brandsgaard – CHS’ leading scorer for the season and an 84 percent marksman from the line on the season prior to Tuesday – was positioned to have a double-figures scoring game without a field goal. He was a perfect 10 for 10 on “Annie Oakleys” in the game. That hiked his season percentage a couple of points to .863.
While the sophomore tallied 12 points, senior forward Adler Marshall was muscling his way to a team-best 13 markers, one less than he had in the previous game against Excelsior Springs. It was his third time leading the well-balanced Hornets in scoring this season; a half-dozen different players have paced the scoring thus far.
Marshall unofficially also secured six rebounds, a category senior power forward Walker Graves led CHS in with 11, unofficially.
“Adler was really good inside,” the Chillicothe coach complimented.
After hitting the Hornets for 17 in the game at Excelsior Springs, Peyton Soria topped the Tigers  (1-14) with a game-best 19 this time. Landon Seely aded12.
Entering the game with a mere eight players in uniform – illness reportedly had top backup guard C.J. Pfaff in drydock and a coincidental junior-varsity contest Trenton occupied three other normal reserves, Chillicothe didn’t figure to have the manpower to play an up-tempo game, if it got that opportunity. In addition, should foul trouble crop up – as it did in the first half, the Hornets would have to play more cautiously than normal.
The slow pace that developed, as expected, worked in the favor of the upset-minded Tigers, meaning any spurts they’d manage should have them on close terms.
In fact, ESHS’ boys led three times in the first quarter and never trailed until Brandsgaard sank his first two free throws with four ticks left on the opening-segment clock for an 8-7 CHS lead.
A 6-0 mini-run by the underdogs pushed them back in front in the first 3:15 of the second period and they led 17-14 with about 3:50 to go in the half.
Then both teams forgot how to score from the floor.
Although they combined for 10 markers in the last 3:10 of the half, none came on field goals. Instead, an 8-0 Chillicothe stretch put the Hornets in front for keeps at 22-17 before it was a 22-19 game at intermission.
The baskets-less span extended to nearly five minutes before Soria’s inside shot pulled the Tigers within 23-21 1:05 into the third frame.
Two Konner Sewell treys in the next three minutes allowed the Hornets to open some daylight – a 31-23 lead, but the gap had shrunk to 32-27 going to the last stanza.
Seely’s driving layup pulled Excelsior Springs within 34-30 90 seconds into the fourth period before CHS senior reserve guard Hayden Montgomery delivered five clutch points in a row. His trey from the top of the key off one of Willard’s six unofficial assists was followed a minute later by two foul shots, making it 39-30.
Praised Cool, “Hayden Montgomery came in and did a good job.”
Although the Tigers would whittle the difference down to five, 48-43, inside the last minute of the game, there wasn’t enough time to make the last-gasp push pay off.