(UPDATED 3/2/18 10:45 a.m.) CHS senior point guard Jack Willard will not play when Hornets meet St. Joseph: Lafayette at Cameron tonight at 6 o'clock for Class 4 District 16 crown, state-tournament berth. Was injured in 53-45 semifinal triumph over St. Joseph: Benton Tuesday, leading to discovery of further health issue
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — Chillicothe High School’s basketball Hornets garnered their 22nd win of the 2017-18 season Tuesday night – the first time in 20 years a Hornets club has had that many in one season. However, they also suffered a significant loss.
During the third period of CHS’ 53-45 triumph over St. Joseph: Benton in the semifinals of the Class 4 District 16 Tournament, senior point guard Jack Willard suddenly was doubled over in pain. Hunched over, but able to walk under his own power while his forearms covered his midsection, Willard gingerly moved to the bench during a dead-ball situation.
Speaking with Willard's father, retired CHS football head coach Phil, Wednesday morning, the C-T was told the player was taken to nearby Cameron Regional Medical Center's emergency room, where it was determined the younger Willard had some internal bleeding.
However, the elder Willard related,, examination also led to the discovery that, unrelated to Tuesday's accidental on-court collision, one of the senior Hornet's kidneys had not been working – at least fully – for some period of time.
Given both the internal bleeding and lack of knowledge of the full scope of the pre-existing kidney problem, Willard will not be able to participate in tonight’s district-championship game against top-seeded St. Joseph: Lafayette, CHS head coach Tim Cool confirmed to the C-T Thursday.
Lafayette, after a slightly-slow start, obliterated Kirksville 93-50 behind seven treys and 35 points by Ike Book and double-figures scoring by three other Fighting Irish in Tuesday’s first semifinal.
Lafayette (20-7) defeated Chillicothe (22-4) 69-56 on the Fighting Irish’s home court in mid-February, a game the Hornets trailed almost all night, but also stayed on the fringe of contention in until the last couple of minutes.
With J. Willard unable to play, the loss of his services as the Hornets' primary ballhandler and court general will make dealing with the high-pressure defense and fast-paced style Lafayette employs even more challenging for the underdog Hornets.
The Hornets head coach reported Thursday that sophomore C.J. Pfaff likely will start in Willard's stead, sharing the ballhandling duties against Lafayette's press not only with usual "2" guard Konner Sewell, but with wing guard/forward Westley Brandsgaard. Senior reserve guard Isaiah Boon also undoubtedly will be asked to play more minutes and fellow senior guard/forward Hayden Montgomery also might be utilized more.
None of those players, however, have been asked to routinely handle the bulk of the ballhandling chores during the season, even against opponents with lesser defensive pressure than the Irish.
“Our guys are going to compete. We are not going to just be happy to be there, satisfied to be there,” Cool declared after Tuesday's victory, even before having first-hand information on J. Willard's health.
“We want to go and compete for the district championship and that’s what our guys will do. That’s what they do every day. They’re competitors, and competitors do not take nights off.”
The Hornets earned the right to compete again Friday with a workmanlike, relatively-efficient third victory of the season over Benton’s Cardinals.
Chillicothe got out to a 6-2 lead with a couple of Willard deuces and one by Westley Brandsgaard, starting both on their way to double-digits scoring nights, even with J. Willard’s ended prematurely.
While Benton used its quickness to try to speed up the game, Chillicothe effectively played to its strength advantage.
Repeatedly getting the ball near the rim in the hands of its big men and using their ability to muscle shots up and in and to battle for possession of rebounds around the basket when they missed, the Hornets regularly denied Benton the chance to get the ball cleanly in a way that would allow a quick transition.
“We put enough pressure on them as offensive rebounders that they weren’t getting clean, quick outlets and then pitch-aheads for layups,” the CHS coach confirmed.
That made the game, more often than not, one of half-court offense, which favored the bigger Hornets.
Chillicothe parlayed the 6-2 start into a 14-5 lead before being on top 14-7 at the end of one quarter.
Brandsgaard’s twisting move and close-range shot from the right block a minute into the second quarter put the CHS advantage at 10, 18-8.
Later in the second quarter, two Konner Sewell free throws pushed the spread to 11 at mid-period and J. Willard’s trey from right of the key after getting an Adler Marshall pass produced a 25-13 Chillicothe lead with 3:35 remaining in the opening half.
The Hornets hit their only offensive lull of the game at that time, failing to score the rest of the second quarter, but their defense kept Benton to only two points in that span, as well, sending the teams to the locker room at intermission with Chillicothe on top 25-15.
The teams swapped points through the first three minutes of the last half before Benton posted points consecutively for the first time all night. A three-points play by Choi Ater and his free throw 53 seconds later drew the Cardinals within 30-23 midway through the third stanza.
Chillicothe responded to the mild threat with a Brandsgaard right-corner triple and Marshall’s putback in the next 65 seconds, then missed a chance to further expand the margin beyond 12 on a play that, a video review showed, led to J. Willard’s injury.
As a Walker Graves 3-pointer bounced off the rim, it deflected off a player’s hand and toward the area to the right of the key on the CHS end with a player from each side chasing it from behind. J. Willard, near midcourt to protect against a possible BHS fast break, advanced and grabbed the ball first.
However, just after doing so, the Benton player giving chase dodged left to avoid the CHS player who’d been in pursuit, only to end up intersecting J. Willard’s path. The Cardinal’s left leg inadvertantly caught the inside of J. Willard’s left leg, pulling it outward as the Hornet’s momentum was going to his right.
Although no foul was called for the quick collision, J. Willard immediately lost control of the ball, reacting to the sudden sharp pain in the waist/abdominal area near his left hip. As Benton took the ball toward the other end of the court, the CHS senior limped after the action and, after Marshall intercepted a BHS pass, was given the ball to bring upcourt before anyone on the court realized he was hurt.
Bent at the waist, Willard dribbled the ball about 30 feet before Cool – realizing something was amiss – called for a timeout.
In the remaining nearly two minutes of the third quarter, Benton capitalized on the disruption of the CHS lineup and focus to outscore the Hornets 6-2 and be within 37-29 going to the final frame.
When Ater canned a right-corner 3-pointer 40 seconds into the last period, the Chillicothe lead was only five – its smallest since it was building its initial 14-5 margin.
However, in what might have been an outcome-altering play, senior Sewell – shifted from the “2” or wing guard spot to fill in for Willard at the point – made a steal and drove to score on a contested shot with 6:40 left.
That play – even though it was followed by a pair of Benton free throws that once more reduced the gap to five – seemed to calm Chillicothe’s nerves about how well it could deal with Willard’s absence.
“He really stepped up,” concurred Cool. “For a ‘2’ guard to step in there and play the point like he did tonight – Konner did a great job with that.
“He got a couple of big buckets for us and hit some free throws, but, more than anything, he just took care of the ball and got the ball where we needed it to go.”
The Hornets answered those two free throws with a 9-2 stretch over a 4:12 span. C.J. Pfaff, barely avoiding a traveling call, hit a short right-baseline jumper and Sewell struck again with a driving shot while being fouled on the press break in the spurt, but also important was that CHS kept adding points to its total on almost every possession – five times sinking one of two free-throw opportunities.
“We were able to keep them at arm’s length with that 50-percent free-throw shooting,” the CHS coach noted.
That drip, drip, drip eventually restored Chillicothe’s lead to its largest of the game to that point – 12 – with only 1:55 remaining. When Pfaff bottomed two charity tosses with 46 seconds to go, the Hornets had their biggest spread of the evening – 13 – at 51-38 before three late and meaningless Benton buckets made the final gap only eight.
Statistically, Chillicothe’s scoring was led by Brandsgaard’s 14 points. Willard got 11, along with team-mosts of four steals and three assists, in his less-than-three quarters of action. Brandsgaard snared six rebounds, as well, second to Graves’ eight.
Ater unofficially paced Benton (7-18) with 14 points.