Lady Hornets shakily earn 17th win of season, 31-26, after holding Kirksville to six points in game's first 19 minutes. CHS girls to face Savannah a fourth time in tourney semifinals Monday night

CAMERON, Mo. — An offensively-challenged contest the Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets nevertheless seemed to have a grip on a couple of times became dicey late, but worked out at the end.
Ahead since an 11-0 first-half stretch that extended into a 15-2 advantage reaching into the second half, the Lady Hornets held on to prevail over Kirksville 31-26 after the Lady Tigers cut an 11-points deficit two minutes into the final stanza to four twice in the last minute.
Third-seeded Chillicothe (17-8) extended its season to at least tonight, when it will have a fourth meeting this season with Savannah at about 7 p.m. at Cameron in the semifinals of the Class 4 District 16 Tournament.
Savannah, which had a first-round bye, has defeated Chillicothe twice – on each team’s home court, but Chillicothe prevailed in the title game of the Cameron Invitational Tournament a month ago.
The earlier semifinal tonight will have top-seeded St. Joseph: Benton against crosstown rival Lafayette at 5:30.
Saturday’s Chillicothe-Kirksville rematch – CHS had won by nine at home in December – saw both teams play reasonably-good defense, but Chillicothe, in particular, missed many shots from the floor – both inside and out – it often makes.
The senior-less Kirksville team had a harder time getting clean looks at the hoop, leading to it scoring only two baskets and six points in the game’s first 19 minutes.
Despite its defensive success over that span, Chillicothe did not have the game salted away, having netted only 18 points itself by that juncture.
The odds finally favoring Kirksville, the Lady Tigers exploited the door CHS had left open by scoring six unanswered points in less than 90 seconds to halve their deficit to six – 18-12 – with 11 minutes still remaining.
About a minute later, freshman guard Kenslie Stufflebean popped home a trey from the right wing and the Lady Hornets’ lead had shrunk to five.
With Kirksville (4-21) quickly retreating to its deep freeze for the next 4-1/2 minutes, Chillicothe managed to reclaim most of its lost territory. Maggie Pfaff’s 18-footer from the key closed the third-stanza scoring before Liberty Cox crisply found Hunter Keithley cutting across the lane for a layup and Kennedie Kieffer banked in a short shot in the paint within the first two minutes of the fourth frame.
Again down by double figures – 11 this time, KHS’ Lady Tigers again clawed their way back into contention.
Blanking CHS for almost four minutes, Kirksville got an Anna Moore left-elbow jumper and two Hannan Meyer buckets – a mid-range “J” and left-handed scoop shot as she drove the lane – to creep within five with 3:20 left.
Chillicothe got a huge putback shot from Pfaff off a Kieffer miss at the 2:23 mark, but a Meyer free throw with 1:53 remaining and Stufflebean’s midcourt steal and layup after a CHS fumble reduced the Lady Hornets’ once-comfortable cushion to merely four points – 28-24 – with 43 seconds to go.
Taking a timeout after that play, Chillicothe gambled that Kirksville would play tight, player-to-player defense on the in-bounds play from under the KHS hoop, setting up a long-inbounds pass, if the Lady Tigers did.
When the anticpation proved astute, Maddi Graham heaved a baseball throw to the CHS offensive end as Keithley dashed past her defender from near the KHS free-throw line. Keithley ran onto the bouncing ball a step or two beyond midcourt and outmaneuvered her pursuing defender to score for a 30-24 lead.
Kirksville’s Meyer netted two free throws with 34 seconds left to again make the difference four points and, after a CHS missed free throw on the front end of the bonus, the underdogs had the ball with a chance to get within one or two with a score.
The KHS shot choice was a right-side 3-pointer that came close to splashing home, but bounced off into the hands of CHS’ Harlie Jones – the 5’5” point guard’s sixth rebound of the day.
Fouled quickly, Jones converted the first shot of her 1-and-1 chance with 13 seconds left and Chillicothe had survived and advanced.
While its offense was nothing to rave about, Chillicothe did manufacture enough points during Kirksville’s long, long field-goal famine – one basket in 15 minutes – to create some daylight.
Sophomore Keithley provided the first seven of CHS’ 11-straight first-half points that made it 14-4. Kieffer and Pfaff followed with deuces to cap that skein.
After Kirksville got its lone basket of the second quarter, Keithley’s free throw posted the last point of the half for a 15-6 intermission margin.
A couple of minutes into the second half, Kieffer tallied once at the line and Keithley capitalized on one of Cox’s five offensive rebounds of the game with a layup after a left baseline drive. That left Chillicthe ahead 18-6 with five minutes to go in the third quarter.
Even though Kirksville finally got the lid pried off its basket seconds later and closed in several times, it never did fully catch up.
Statistically, Keithley’s 16 points led all scorers. The 10th grader also had five rebounds. Pfaff provided eight points off the bench, while Cox and Jones led the rebounding with, unofficially, seven and six, respectively.
Kirksville was topped by Meyer’s seven points.
Beyond its shooting struggles, Chillicothe hurt itself with 16 turnovers, unofficially. Kirksville had 14.