Behind rebounding of Cox and Pfaff, scoring of Hibner and Keithley, and Gaston's steady play, Lady Hornets claim tourney's crown for a fourth year in a row with a mostly-new cast, avenging earlier loss to Savannah with 59-49 triumph. Hornets then fall behind big early to Maryville and can't make up ground despite second-half rally in 60-47 loss.
CAMERON, Mo. — For the third time in four years, Chillicothe High School’s varsity basketball teams entered the final round of the Cameron Invitational Tournament with an opportunity to produce its first sweep of a tourney’s crowns since the 1996-97 CHS girls and boys won their respective district titles.
For the third time in four years, the girls set the table by winning, but the boys couldn’t close the deal.
Saturday afternoon (Jan. 26, 2018), CHS’ Lady Hornets rapidly regained their equilibrium after getting tagged by a 10-3 start by top-seeded Savannah and, after gaining and then losing a 7-points lead in the third quarter, outscored the Lady Savages 15-5 in the title game’s last 6:15 to prevail 59-49.
The victory was the Lady Hornets’ 10th in their last 11 outings, spoiled only by a loss to eventual Kearney tournament champion Kearney in the KHS “Bulldog Classic.”
It’s the fourth-consecutive year Chillicothe’s girls (12-5) have taken the Cameron crown, even with a nearly-complete turnover of personnel from last year to this.
With the distaff laurels again safely tucked away, Chillicothe’s boys took the court for a rematch with one of the two teams to have defeated them previously – Maryville.
Defeated in the Cameron championship contest in both 2015 and ’16 before not qualifying for it a year ago, the Hornets – like the Chillicothe girls and like their own prior clash with MHS’ Spoofhounds – got down big before scoring their first points. While they made a strong, determined, extended push throughout the second half, the Hornets (16-3) never were closer than five points the rest of the way and lost, 60-49.
Their regular-season tournaments now behind them, the Chillicothe squads turn full attention to Midland Empire Conference play over the next several weeks.
For the girls, currently 1-0 in the MEC, that will begin Monday night with a visit to Smithville. The boys, 1-1 in the loop, are to host Smithville Tuesday. Both CHS teams will take on St. Joseph: Benton later in the week – the girls visiting the conference favorite Thursday and the boys hosting the Cardinals Friday.
Although the final margin was 10 points, Saturday’s girls’ triumph for CHS wasn’t certain until the final 30 seconds.
Neither side scored a field goal in the final 3:50 – Chillicothe because it didn’t try to too hard, since it had a multi-possessions lead, and Savannah because it could not get its shots to drop and the Lady Hornets largely controlled the defense backboards behind forward Liberty Cox and point guard Harlie Jones. Each snared three SHS misses in the final frame.
After getting down by seven in the game’s first three minutes and then by eight when Liz Everly of the Lady Savages nailed a right-wing trey at the 4:20 mark of the first quarter, the Lady Hornets showed their significant maturation from the largely-green team Savannah had defeated by 11 at Savannah on Nov. 30.
Less than 2:20 after trailing 14-5, the Lady Hornets had swarmed into the lead with a 9-0 run. Jordan Hibner’s trey ignited the surge, followed by reserve forward Maggie Pfaff’s two free throws after securing one of her four offensive rebounds, and Hunter Keithley’s two foul shots and go-ahead driving layup after a CHS steal.
With both sides having purged their system of a really-good stretch and a really-bad one, the game settled into a back-and-forth tussle until the fourth quarter.
Tied at 18-18 after one stanza, the clubs went to their respective quarters at halftime with Savannah ahead 30-28 following Briley Jeter’s two free throws with eight ticks left in the half.
Right out of the intermission, Chillicothe quickly reclaimed the lead on another Hibner trifecta. After SHS’ Grace Stites answered in kind 25 seconds later, Jones found Hibner open on the right side for another triple, restoring the upper hand to the No. 2 seed at 34-33.
Savannah never led again, although it did battle back from a 43-36 deficit with three minutes to go in the third stanza to square things at 44 1:08 into the fourth on Madi Rowland’s trey.
Unfazed by being tied again, Chillicothe executed well enough on its subsequent possession to get Pfaff to the free-throw stripe. She hit the first of two tries with 6:15 remaining and, while it didn’t seem likely at the time – given the recent Lady Savages surge, CHS was in front for keeps, it turned out.
After a scoreless SHS possession, Hibner delivered from beyond the arc again at the 5-minutes mark, making it a 2-possessions lead. Junior reserve guard-forward Laney Gaston, seeing her most playing time of the season as her height-mobility-ballhandling combination matched up well with Savannah’s personnel, knocked down an 18-footer 45 seconds later – set up by a Keithley pass, as Hibner’s preceding 3-ball had been – and Chillicothe had opened a 50-44 lead.
An Everly lay-in from the right side cut the gap to four for the favorites with 3:55 remaining, but that would proved to be her team’s last field goal.
Following a timeout right after that deuce, Chillicothe went to an offensive tactic designed to try to create an opportunity for someone to drive for a layup, but Savannah initially didn’t challenge the players on the perimeter. After CHS killed about a minute without approaching the basket, the Lady Savages began pressuring the ballhandlers more, but CHS’ players didn’t wilt from the turned-up heat, continuing to dribble and pass the ball safely as more and more time drained from the clock.
Finally, more than two minutes after the possession began, Hibner was fouled by Stites, ending the night of the player who had scored 19 for Savannah in its November victory over the Lady Hornets.
Hibner hit the front end of her 1-and-1 chance, nudging the lead to five. After Savannah matched that on its end, the Lady Hornets again whittled 20 seconds from the clock – leaving only 1:20 left – before Keithley was fouled. She also made the first try in the “bonus” situation for another 5-points lead, 52-47.
A quick Savannah miss was rebounded by CHS and led by another foul of Hibner. This time, still in the 1-and-1, she dropped in both tries, making it a 3-possessions game with 1:08 to play.
Although Jeter drew a foul and made both attempts with 58 seconds on the clock, it was Savannah’s last hurrah. It would not score again – missing several times from the floor, as well as two free throws, while Chillicothe made a total of five free throws from three sources to lengthen its lead. When Jones sank both tries with 38 ticks left, making it 58-49, Chillicothe was virtually assured of at least going to overtime. When Savannah missed its quick shot seconds later and the Lady Hornets recovered the carom, it effectively was all over.
Statistically for the CHS girls, Hibner had 16, including her four trifectas, to share team scoring honors with Keithley. Junior center Kennedie Kieffer, despite missing extensive time with early foul woes, managed 11 points, six of them on a quick, third-stanza flurry in which she was found underneath with lob passes by Cox twice and Jones once. After missing CHS’ previous two tourney games while getting a lingering health issue further checked, according to Smith, Pfaff was a most-welcome addition to the bench Saturday, particularly with Kieffer’s extended absences. Pfaff scored nine points and, unofficially, snared seven rebounds.
In addition to the Lady Hornets’ three dual-digits scorers, they had a double-figures rebounder in Cox, unofficially tracked for 10 boards – four on the offensive end in the second quarter and six off the defensive window in the last half.
Topping 12-5 Savannah’s scoring were Everly with 16 points and Rowland with 13.
The boys’ contest was like a bad rerun for Chillicothe.
A couple of weeks earlier, in a home game with Maryville, CHS had quickly plunged into an 8-0 hole and, after a 9-0 MHS run in the second period, trailed by 15, 24-9, before finding its game.
Eventually, the Hornets climbed within a handful of points four times in the fourth period and had possession once with a chance to make it a 1-score game, but didn’t capitalize and ended up on the short side of a 53-44 final.
Saturday at Cameron, Chillicothe’s early offensive struggles – not a rare occurrence for it against quality opponents this season – were on display again.
Although not as quickly as it had in the Jan. 9 meeting, Maryville began with an even-longer string of unanswered points, taking a 10-0 lead when Jake Woods buried a right-corner trey with 2:25 left in the first period.
Finally, after more than six minutes, the Hornets scored their first points – on two Jonathan Burk free throws. Reserve center Burk finally notched CHS’ first – and only – field goal of the first frame on a putback 18 seconds before the horn.
Down 11-4 after a quarter, Chillicothe began to slowly pick up its offensive pace, but, with Maryville knocking down four triples in the second period to give it six in the half, the Hornets continued to slip farther behind. Sophomore Tate Oglesby’s third “3” of the half with 1:49 left until halftime made it 25-11, Spoofhounds, and that’s how it stood going to the second half.
Behind by 14 this game after trailing by 12 at halftime in the previous duel with Maryville, the Hornets came out with a much-more aggressive offensive mindset in the third quarter and it paid dividends.
Taking the ball strong to the paint and rim, Chillicothe scored three baskets on stickbacks in the first 2:30. However, consecutive triples by the ’Hounds within 30 seconds pushed their lead to a game-high 17, 36-19, with a bit over three minutes of the last half elapsed.
Undeterred, CHS continued to take the ball into the teeth of the Maryville defense, repeatedly drawing fouls which allowed the Hornets to inch closer with the clock stopped.
An 11-3 Chillicothe push over the last 4:35 of the third quarter allowed it to have its deficit at a psychologically-heartening single-digits margin – 39-30 – entering the last segment.
Consecutive deuces by Adler Marshall and Jack Willard cut the deficit to a more-than-manageable 43-36 with still 5:40 to go. However, Oglesby’s three-points play drive and right-corner trey 31 seconds apart just as quickly rocketed the Maryville lead back up to 13 with 4:50 to go.
Strong-willed, as always, the Hornets pressed on. A well-conceived and -executed press break saw Burk gather in Willard’s long bounce pass for a lay-in less than 10 seconds after the Ogleby “3.”
After Maryville offset that bucket with two free throws, the Hornets made their move, ill-fated though it would prove.
Starting with the 6’7” Burk’s 17-footer from right of the key, CHS scored nine of the next 10 points, aided greatly by faulty MHS free-throw work. Two C.J. Pfaff free throws, Konner Sewell’s right-side triple – Chillicothe’s only successful one of the game, compared to MHS’ nine, and Willard’s two free throws at the 1:38 mark pared the deficit to 52-47, the same 5-points “wall” CHS hit in its rally attempt in the prior loss to Maryville.
A second after Willard’s charity tosses, the Hornets fouled and, when the ’Hounds made only one of two attempts, regained possession with a chance to get within three with a 3-pointer or basket-and-1.
However, a quickly-triggered trey drew iron instead of net and Maryville easily rebounded and was immediatel fouled. This time, it converted both attempts, beginning a stretch of seven MHS “makes” in eight attempts over the next 32 seconds, while CHS failed to score. Those moved the lead back up to 13 and, after a hurried Hornets misfire with about 45 seconds remaining, the Hornets stood back and allowed Maryville to hold the ball as the clock ran down and out.
Statistically, the disparity in long-range shooting success was the obvious critical factor, MHS having a whopping 24-points bulge in points outside the arc. That more than counterbalanced the Hornets’ 8-0 advantage in “second-chance” points.
Individually, Oglesby’s 3-at-a-time approach – six trifectas and one three-points play – led to a game-best 26 points. Junior teammate Eli Dowis added 13.
Chillicothe was led by Willard’s 10 points and five assists. The senior guard also was chosen by tourney-long observers to receive the tournament’s Ryan Beckett “Hustle” Award, memorializing a hard-working, early 2000s Cameron High student-player who died about five years ago in a traffic accident.
Burk had a strong game off the bench with eight points and nine rebounds.