After hot and cold performance, CHS basketball Lady Hornets give up putback, go-ahead basket with four seconds left, then have potential game-winning try from three feet away blocked at final buzzer in 39-38 loss Friday, Feb. 9, 2018
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Chillicothe High School’s annual “Jam the Gym” night of high school basketball action and fan-participation fund-raising was fun, as usual, Friday night.
It just came achingly-close to being a lot “funner.”
Prior to the post-game activities highlighted by a youngster quickly sailing his paper airplane into a plastic “trash can” sitting at midcourt to win $100 cash, CHS’ varsity basketball boys methodically handled Midland Empire Conference foe Savannah 46-31 to reach the brink of the first 20-wins season of Hornets’ hoops since 2003-04.
However, before that, Chillicothe’s Lady Hornets – with a chance to do no worse than share the MEC crown, if they could win their last four league games, all of which would be played at home – saw multiple chances to vastly improve their chances of doing just that get away, the last of which when a potential point-blank, game-winning, buzzer-beating shot by their top scorer for the season was cleanly swatted to the floor before it could even get launched. That meant a 39-38 defeat that, in all likelihood, ended the Lady Hornets’ hopes of repeating as league champions.
Having led throughout the game’s first 19-plus minutes – including by as many as eight points just after the second half began, CHS’ girls rallied from a stunning 18-3 Savannah surge that left the Lady Hornets down by seven points with under seven minutes to play to regain the upper hand at 38-37 on Kennedie Kieffer’s sweet move on the right block with 1:18 to go in the game.
However, after rebounding a Savannah miss and running the clock down to less than 30 seconds, Chillicothe (13-7, 2-2 conf.) missed the front end of a bonus free-throw opportunity to give the Lady Savages, who had not scored for virtually seven minutes, another crack at victory.
Savannah (16-6, 4-1) struggled to find a good shot, finally trying to feed the ball under the basket to Liz Everly, only to have the pass deflected and momentarily unclaimed as the clock moved to about five seconds remaining. However, as a CHS player lunged to the court to try to grab it or knock farther away, Everly was able to reach out and grab it first. Hurriedly shooting from about three feet away to the right of the basket as another Lady Hornet leaped past trying to deny the shot, she missed, but the ball came right back to her. With two CHS defenders’ momentum having carried them past her, Everly put up another short shot which banked in with just over four seconds left for a 39-38 lead for the visitors.
An immediate timeout by CHS coach Darren Smith resulted in 3.8 seconds remaining for the Lady Hornets to try to go the length of the court and snatch victory from the looming jaws of defeat. They nearly pulled it off.
Still retaining one timeout, the Lady Hornets coach called for, if possible, a long in-bounds pass to 6’ junior center Kieffer at around midcourt. She’d have the option to either give the ball off to Hunter Keithley rushing past her, hoping to take a couple of quick dribbles before launching a hopefully-open, but still long, shot, or, if Keithley was guarded or unable to be nearby, calling a timeout with potentially still a couple of seconds to go.
The throw-in went as scripted with Kieffer leaping to catch the ball just on the offensive side of midcourt and being able to shovel the ball away quickly to Keithley near the right sideline. However, as Keithley attempted to drive past a defender, the ball suddenly veered out of bounds. While Savannah faithful – perhaps justifiably – thought the Lady Hornet had simply dribbled the ball off her leg and out of bounds, giving the Lady Savages possession, the official with the best view – but still about 30 feet away from the incident – quickly pointed in Chillicothe’s direction, ruling the defensive player had deflected the ball away.
With just under two seconds now on the clock, Smith called another timeout, setting out the sideline in-bounds play he hoped could produce either a good shot or perhaps a foul that could give his team a hair-raising win.
Once again, his players – after a moment’s confusion on alignment the coach said was his mistake in instructions – executed with precision.
The tall Kieffer, as the trigger person, raised the ball over her head on the offensive right sideline as Keithley and Harlie Jones broke toward each other and then, with Jones serving as a screener, apart with Keithley fading toward the far, left side of the lane. As she did, Kieffer fired a perfectly-measured, two-handed pass to Keithley just to the left of the paint and about five feet from the hoop.
While she had an instant’s opening in which she might have had a clear shot at the rim before a leaping defender got there, Keithley opted to give a quick fake and then step toward the basket as that defender went past. When she did so, it fleetingly looked like she’d found a clear path to the rim with just enough time to send a shot on its way ahead of the buzzer.
However, as she started to jump to attempt the shot from a foot or so away, another Lady Savage – guard Briley Jeter – arrived and reached out and hit the top of the ball, knocking it from the Lady Hornet’s grasp. As the horn blared, all eyes turned toward the nearest official – the same one whose ruling had kept CHS in possession a moment before, waiting to see if he’d spotted a foul. However, he quickly indicated the defender’s contact had been only with the ball – a correct assessment, a photo showed – and the game was over with Savannah staying in the tie (in terms of games lost) for the conference lead and Chillicothe falling out.
The frustrating ending – the defensive near-miss of a steal and then the second-shot, go-ahead basket by Savannah, followed by the fleeting bid to pull it out at the last second – thematically fit the game for the CHS girls.
Idle for eight days, they had very good energy early, crisply scoring baskets on the first two possessions in the first 1:05, but then went flat on offense for an extended stretch, failing to score again for nearly five minutes.
Even so, their defense was good and never let Savannah move in front. When the offense slipped back into gear for a spell, an 11-4 spurt gave the home team a 15-8 lead early in the second quarter.
While Savannah closed to within three three times, Chillicothe still reached intermission in front by five, 24-19.
When Kieffer, who Savannah struggled to deal with in the low post all night, completed a three-points play from there 37 seconds into the last half, the Lady Hornets had pushed their lead to a game-most eight points. Given their recent, neutral-floor victory over the Lady Savages in the Cameron Invitational Tournament championship game, it appeared CHS might be on the verge of taking a firm grip on this third contest of the season between the clubs.
However, the senior-laden Savannah squad, which had bested Chillicothe on the SHS court in the season’s second week, turned up the defensive pressure and the Lady Hornets wilted badly for the rest of the third quarter.
Unofficially committing nine turnovers in the stanza – most of them on intercepted passes, Chillicothe went from up eight to down seven over the next eight minutes.
Getting only a Jones trey in a span of 9:10, the Lady Hornets were outscored 18-3 and looked lost and lifeless.
However, Kieffer delivered a jump-start with out-court steals and 60-feet drives for layups on back-to-back possessions to quickly bring her team back within one possession.
With the CHS defense in the midst of blanking Savannah for minutes on end – the Lady Savages fell into the trap of trying to kill the clock and instead killing their offensive rhythm, the Lady Hornets caught a break after their own 3-minutes-plus dry spell.
A SHS player suffered an injury on her team’s offensive end just after Chillicothe had gained possession of the ball and could not follow the play up the court. Just as had happened in the first half when Kieffer fell and could not rise, because of apparent lower back pain, and Savannah, which had possession, moved to the other end and scored in a 5-on-4 situation, because CHS had possession this time, officials could not whistle play to a halt, given that it seemingly was not a catastrophic type of injury.
When, after a few seconds, Keithley spotted Jones unguarded in the numbers-advantage situation and the senior guard hit the left-side lay-in, Chillicothe was down by a point with two ticks less than two minutes to go.
After a Savannah player missed both free throws 12 seconds after that and CHS rebounded, the Lady Hornets had a chance to tie or go in front. They chose the latter.
A pass from the right wing gave Kieffer possession on the right block, her back to the hoop with a defender behind her and another on the “high” (free-throw line) side of her. Deftly, she pivoted to her left away from the “high-side” defender to face the bucket about six feet away.
Faking a jump shot, she got the defender between her and the rim off-balance and moved around her with one dribble. Before the other Lady Savage could cut her off or a weak-side defender could come across, Kieffer banked in a 3-footer with 1:18 to go, making it eight consecutive Chillicothe points – six by herself – and a 1-point Lady Hornets lead.
Now needing to score, Savannah ended up with a close-range look, but it bounced off the iron into Jones’ hands with less than a minute left. After committing its sixth and last “common” (no shots awarded) foul, SHS put Chillicothe at the line in the 1-and-1 situation with 26 seconds remaining and got the miss it sought, setting the stage for the flurry of decisive action in the last six seconds.
Statistically, Kieffer’s 18 points and, unofficially, six rebounds led all players – Keithley unofficially also snared six caroms. Chillicothe, however, in a rarity for it this season, had no one else with more than five points. Savannah was paced by Anna Hill’s 11, including three treys, but also had six, seven, or eight points from four others – just enough, it turned out, for the 1-point win.
While CHS unofficially had a sizable 26-17 advantage on the backboards, it undermined its performance with, unofficially, 20 turnovers to SHS’ 13. At halftime, the turnover numbers were essentially even – Chillicothe with seven and Savannah with six.
Up next for Chillicothe's girls will be a home game against conference foe St. Joseph: Lafayette on Tuesday (Feb. 13).