St. Joseph: Benton took fifth place in the 90th-annual Savannah Invitational Tournament Saturday afternoon (Dec. 1, 2018), besting CHS 50-45 with an 8-4 closing push.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

SAVANNAH, Mo. — Although not producing a second victory in less than 24 hours, the  Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets had several inexperienced starters or reserves show signs of acclimating themselves to the complementary tasks they’ll need to assume for this year’s team to experience won-lost success.
Faring their best early, but scrapping back to close terms several times after falling behind, the Hornets (1-2) lost 50-45 to St. Joseph: Benson in the fifth-place game of the 90th-annual Savannah Invitational Tournament Saturday.
“I saw a lot of really good things out of our guys,” Tim Cool, CHS head coach, reflected on the play of players like Bradley Riley, Hunter Swift, and others following the afternoon loss on the heels of a 52-43 triumph over Smithville the evening before.
“… Early in the year, the execution may not always be there, but, if the competitive spirit is there, we can fix the other stuff.”
The Hornets, who have only one starter and two players with significant varsity experience back from last season, now will get several days of practice to integrate the knowledge they gained from their first three games before taking another game “test” at home Friday against Trenton.
Just as he related he saw a much-improved showing Saturday from what the team had in its one-sided opening against Maryville last Wednesday, Cool anticipates the club that takes the court Friday against Trenton will have advanced even further.
“That’s the thing I really feel like is exciting about this year is we’re going to get better every day,” the coach shared after the Benton loss.
The Hornets and Benton seesawed through the first quarter-and-a-half. CHS led 2-1 early, fell behind 6-2, then came back to lead 14-12 after one period on sophomore Mason Baxter’s banked 3-pointer from the top of the key and C.J. Pfaff’s steal and fast-break layup in the last 40 seconds of quarter No. 1.
CHS scored again 15 seconds into the second stanza on Westley Brandsgaard’s short shot in the lane off an in-bounds pass from Pfaff, but that 16-12 advantage would be their last.
Benton tallied the next six markers before the Hornets tied it at 18- and 20-all. As it turned out, when the Cardinals from south St. Joseph received a pair of free-throw conversions from Mo Blakley at the 3:09 mark of the second quarter to go in front 22-20, they had the lead for good.
A 9-2 BHS spurt bridging the mid-game break put Benton up 30-23 and it took what would be the game’s largest lead at the 4:21 mark of the third frame when reserve Bryson Conner drove across the lane from the left elbow and banked it a soft-touch shot that made it 34-25.
“In the first half, they were driving it and we were sending everybody to help contest (the driver’s shot) or stop the ball and that left offensive rebounders wide open,” Cool noted about the 11 first-half offensive rebounds Benton grabbed, which it converted into six points. “When shots went up, we were out of position and didn’t recover.
“We fixed that a little bit in the second half.”
Down by nine and having scored only two field goals in a span of 7-plus minutes, Chillicothe suddenly sparked back to life on the offensive end.
A Riley right-side lay-in off a Pfaff setup, Brandsgaard’s jump-stop 6-footer from the paint, Swift’s left-side “gimme” off a sharp Pfaff pass, and a Brandsgaard free throw cut the 9-points deficit to only two in less than two minutes, but they didn’t get the ball back with a chance to tie or lead then.
When a defensive lapse let Benton freshman Allan Coy have a wide-open look from the left wing with two seconds remaining in the third period, he buried the trey for a 39-34 spread going to the last stanza.
Chillicothe’s defense made stop after defensive stop in the first 3-plus minutes of the fourth period, but the offense only managed a pair of Pfaff foul shots and a Brandsgaard right-side lay-in set up by a Riley feed in that span, leaving the Hornets still a point behind.
This time, when Benton netted only a free throw on its next possession, Chillicothe had the ball with a chance to get even or go in front, but Brandsgaard’s second free throw in a “bonus” opportunity bounced away, keeping it a 1-point BHS lead.
Chillicothe got the ball back once or twice more with the 40-39 deficit, but couldn’t convert. Finally, Benton hit two free throws, which Mason Baxter countered with a driving score from the right wing with 2:23 to go.
“Our defense in the second half was really good,” Cool praised, noting Benton had merely 22 points after intermission.
With it being anyone’s game at that juncture, Chillicothe again suffered an offensive outage, going nearly two minutes without another tally, during which time the Cardinals got a basket off a steal and made five of six free throws to widen the gap to 49-41 with only 45 seconds left.
Although Riley scored with 31 seconds remaining off Brandsgaard’s driving dump-off pass, putting Riley into double digits in points for the first time in his fledgling varsity career, a free throw by Benton with a half-minute to made it a 3-possessions game again and iced the Benton win.
Statistically, Brandsgaard’s 14 points led Chillicothe. Riley got his 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field, including a trey. Pfaff approached another double-double with 11 rebounds and eight points. The eight Hornets who contributed points were the most thus far this season.
Chillicothe struggled with Benton’s defensive aggressiveness and quickness, turning the ball over 22 times, while inducing only nine, unofficially.
Benton unofficially finished with an even split of offensive and defensive rebounds in its 32 caroms grabbed.