End best season in 20 years with 70-58 loss to top-seeded St. Joseph: Lafayette Friday (March 2 2018) in championship game of Class 4 District 16 Tournament
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — Minus their senior point guard, the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets on Friday delivered the gritty, determined district championship-game effort their coach had predicted three nights earlier. They did so with more effectiveness than seemed probable.
It just was not enough to improbably extend their program’s best season in 20 years and earn them a first trip to state play in 13 years.
St. Joseph: Lafayette’s Fighting Irish never generated the psyche-sapping extended run or series of damaging smaller flurries that could turn their Class 4 District 16 Tournament title game with the Hornets into a rout, but they still managed to post a clear-cut 70-58 triumph, their 23rd-straight against CHS, to advance to the state tournament for a third year in a row.
“Lafayette is a really good team and so is Chillicothe,” Tim Cool, Chillicothe head coach, reflected after his seventh season at the team’s helm had concluded with the Hornets owning an excellent 22-5 record – “a great, great run,” he termed the season.
“Our guys kept chipping away the best they could. …Clear to the last second, these guys were fighting.”
Powered by Diego Bernard, their senior point guard, the Fighting Irish (20-7) led virtually the entire game, netting the first seven points and, after Chillicothe rallied with seven consecutive points of its own later in the first period, reclaiming the lead for good at 10-8 on Bernard’s 15-feet fadeaway jumper from the right elbow of the lane with 1:28 remaining in the opening segment.
Lafayette led 13-11 after one quarter, then scored 23 of the first 31 points of the second – its most-dominating span of the contest – to set up a 37-22 halftime margin. After taking its largest lead of the proceedings when Bernard, who scorched the nets for a game-high 33 points, dropped in a left-side trey 22 seconds after halftime ended, the north St. Joseph squad saw its margin whittled to 12 late in the third stanza and stand at 13 – 53-40 – going to the fourth.
Cut twice to 11 early in the last segment and eventually to 10 – with Chillicothe subsequently regaining possession to get closer than that – with 2:32 left on consecutive Westley Brandsgaard drives, Lafayette’s margin rediscovered the escalator with five free throws and a lay-in in a 57-seconds span that sealed the deal.
After Cool briefly filled his lineup, through a series of substitutions, with his seven seniors – including the cameo insertion of injured/ill Jack Willard, who received a standing ovation not only Hornets fans, but from the Lafayette coaching staff and most of the Irish players – to allow CHS fans to give them one final salute as each then was replaced, the final moments of Chillicothe’s remarkable season played out.
Perhaps fittingly, 2017-18’s final scoring came from the Hornet underclassman who largely filled Willard’s role in the finale very well – sophomore guard C.J. Pfaff, who capped a 13-points performance with a right-wing trey with 22 seconds left to set the final margin at a respectable and accurately-reflective 12 points.
“They play so hard for each other,” Cool said of his understaffed team’s ability to cover for the absence of its usual main ballhandler against a team renowned for its intimidating defensive pressure. “There’s no quit in them.”
While Chillicothe – a 13-points victim of Lafayette at St. Joseph Feb. 13 and now without a victory over the Irish in 23 tries since January 2007 – got a good bit of what its slender upset hopes needed, in terms of Lafayette not having a particularly-strong shooting night, Bernard was the exception.
That proved to be enough.
The whippet-quick, high-leaping lefthander – headed to Northwest Missouri State University for continuation of his hoops career next school year – started the game’s scoring with a drive from the key 34 seconds in and, as previously cited, hit the shot which gave his team the upper hand for good later in the first quarter.
After draining three treys in a span of 2:22 late in the opening frame and early in the second to jump the LHS margin up to double figures for the first time, Bernard’s free throw with two-tenths of a second remaining in the first half gave him 15 markers for the first 16 minutes.
He accelerated that nearly-point-a-minute pace after halftime, primarily from the free-throw line. After his second-half-starting fourth triple, he netted 13 of 14 post-intermission charity tosses while tacking on 18 points in the last 16 minutes.
Cool confirmed the control the Lafayette standout exerted over the action.
“They’ve got a great point guard who can really handle situations and control the tempo of the game,” the CHS coach saluted, surely thankful Bernard has played his last game against his team.
While senior Bernard accounted for nearly half of his team’s points Friday, Chillicothe, even though graduating a large core of teams that produced 37 wins the past two years and some players who helped the Hornets reach three district-championship games while posting 73 victories the past four campaigns, can look hopefully toward its future after being led offensively by a pair of 10th graders in its finale.
While Pfaff’s closing trifecta gave him a baker’s dozen points, classmate Brandsgaard – a starter since midway through his freshman season – slashed and twisted his way to a season-ending 23-points performance. That was only four off his season-high total back in the third game of the campaign.
By making four of five free throws in the finale, he finished the year at 84.38 percent from the line, third-best percentage in Hornets history. At 80.8 percent for his career, he is virtually a full percentage point ahead of the school-record career pace set by early 1980s All-Stater Mitch Parrish, according to CHS records researched and maintained by Randy Dean.
“Those guys are so good at basketball and they work hard at it,” Cool said of the two sophomores. “… They push each other. Every night after practice, they’re staying late and pushing each other to get better.”
“I am so happy that we’ve got them back, because they’ll do a great job of leading the next group of young men that come through.”
While that pair of sophomores paced the CHS offense, many others chipped in to help the Hornets keep Lafayette within reach. Seniors Jonathan Burk and Hayden Montgomery came off the bench to provide a combined 11 points and senior starting forwards Adler Marshall and Walker Graves had the same paired total.
Cool was deservedly complimentary of how the entire team – particularly Pfaff and Konner Sewell – picked up the slack, in Willard’s absence, in handling the ball against Lafayette’s baseline-to-baseline pressure defense.
“They’re solid and they’re confident, because they have each other,” he said of his players and their commitment to and confidence in each other. “They know how hard we work in practice and, with that in their minds, they know they’re ready for situations, they’re ready for pressure, because they’ve put in the work.”
The CHS coach said ball security was absolutely critical in nearly eliminating the devastating runs Lafayette can unleash when it gets takeaways.
“We know how explosive they are,” he affirmed. “We just had to do the best we could to not have any live-ball turnovers, because, if we turn it over the perimeter or throw it to them, they’re going to go the other way with it.
“I thought our guys did a really good job, with all that pressure, of handling the ball and getting us in our stuff. There were a lot of times they forced us to make plays and we were able to do that sometimes.”
Joining Graves – a 4-years starter, Willard, Marshall, Sewell, Montgomery, and Burk in peeling off the basketball Hornets uniform for the last time Friday was senior guard Isaiah Boon.
“This team had great chemistry because of the character of the players,” lauded Cool, also stating, “they’re just special, special guys.
“How fortunate am I to not only get to know these guys, but to get to coach them. How amazingly fortunate.”