After taking lead over visiting St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond for good with first-half 16-3 surge, CHS delivers 17-3 knockout blow in league opener in middle of second half of 53-37 victory Thursday (Jan. 3, 2019)

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — In a Midland Empire Conference boys’ basketball opener piled high with 3-points possessions, the Chillicothe HS Hornets on Tuesday (Jan. 3, 2019) used a first-half burst to put visiting St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond under the gun, then, after BLHS’ Golden Eagles shot their way back to nearly level ground in the third period, buried them under an extended surge that resulted in a 53-37 Hornets victory.
In their only home-floor appearance in essentially a 2-months stretch from mid-December to mid-February, the CHS boys improved to 4-0 on their home hardwoods this season and 9-4 overall as they captured their conference opener. Bishop LeBlond, which slipped out of contention as seemingly-tiring legs in the final 10 minutes led to nearly all of its earlier accurate long-range shots missing the target – often short, went to 3-6 overall and 0-1 in the MEC.
Chillicothe’s boys next will journey to nemesis Maryville Tuesday for league play. A decisive victor over the Hornets in CHS’ season opener during the Savannah Invitational Tournament in late November, Maryville lost at home to defending league-champion St. Joseph: Lafayette 65-56 Thursday in an immediate clash of anticipated MEC frontrunners.
The Chillicothe-Bishop LeBlond game, which saw each side have 10 possessions in which it netted three points, seemed to be shaping up as a Hornets runaway as halftime neared, but eventually required a booster rocket to provide the final separation.
Having previously run off seven unanswered points to counter a quick Golden Eagles getaway, CHS led 10-9 early in the second stanza when it ripped off a 16-3 run in 3:40.
A Mason Baxter three-points play off a pull-up jumper from 13 feet on the right baseline began the torrent. Fellow sophomore Hayden Simmer converted a quick Peyton Forck pass from the left elbow to the left wing into a trey 75 seconds later.
After a countering BLHS triple – five of the Golden Eagles’ seven first-half baskets were from outside the arc – brought the guests back within four, but Chillicothe netted the next 10 tallies.
Forck fed Simmer again, this time for an easy, left-side lay-in, before Simmer took Baxter’s cross-court pass in the left corner and buried another trifecta as part of a personal 11-points first half.
Westley Brandsgaard followed with a basket-and-1 off C.J. Pfaff’s in-bounds pass and then a steal near the Golden Eagles free-throw line and breakaway layup, giving Chillicothe a 26-12 bulge with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter.
Instead of wilting, Bishop LeBlond netted the last seven points of the half in the final 97 ticks of the clock to reach intermission behind by merely seven, 26-19.
The Golden Eagles, considered by Chillicothe coaches as as good a perimeter shooting team as the Hornets will face this season, carried that momentum over to the second half. Three more triples in the first 3:45 of the third quarter left them behind by only one point, 29-28, in a game they’d trailed by 14 barely five minutes earlier.
Even though Forck scored from the left block off one of Brandsgaard’s team-high three assists on the next CHS possession, Bishop LeBlond then had the ball with a chance to tie. It scored, but from close range, to again trail by one, but it never again owned the “rock” with an opportunity to draw even or lead.
Beginning with Pfaff’s driving basket from the left side that drew a foul he converted into a three-points play on the subsequent Hornets possession, making it 34-30, the home team unleashed its most-dominating stretch of the night. Over the next 8:50, extending to the 3:15 mark of the final period, it buried Bishop LeBlond uner a 17-3 avalanche.
Another three-points play – this time off Forck’s stickback of a Simmer long-range miss – left Chillicothe with a 37-30 lead after three periods.
Brandsgaard, perhaps regaining his usually-impeccable free-throw shooting touch as he hit eight of nine on the night as part of a team-leading 16 points, netted a pair of charity tosses a half-minute into the last frame and followed that with a deuce 90 seconds later to re-establish a double-digits CHS lead, 41-30, with a bit under six minutes to go.
Trailing the play downcourt after Bishop LeBlond again missed a shot on its next possession, Forck was found all alone by Brandsgaard at the top of the key and sank a 3-pointer. The senior forward took only three shots from the field all game, but made each, as well as a lone free throw attempt, to provide a season-best eight points.
Even after Bishop LeBlond finally interrupted the string of consecutive CHS points at 13, it soon dropped further behind.
A Golden Eagles triple was answered by Brandsgaard and Baxter deuces 16 seconds apart for a then-game-high 15 points Chillicothe lead with 3:17 left. One last BLHS trifecta – its ninth – was trumped by a Pfaff three-points play – the Hornets’ fourth “and-1” of the game – and two final Brandsgaard foul shots that, 64 seconds before the final horn, gave CHS its largest lead of the game, 53-36.
Statistically, Chillicothe had only five players score – often a prescription for defeat, but the productivity of that quintet, combined with the Hornets’ mostly-strong defense, proved plenty sufficient to get the job done this time.
In addition to Brandsgaard’s 16 and Simmer’s first-half 11, Pfaff provided 11, as well, while Forck perfectly produced his eight and Baxter, in his finest all-around varsity game to date, tallied seven points, snared five rebounds, earned three assists, and made two steals.
Brandsgaard’s seven snares led the Hornets’ board work which not only produced an overall, unofficial 30-16 advantage, but also denied Bishop LeBlond any offensive rebounds until it grabbed one with only 12 seconds left.
The Golden Eagles’ scoring was led by freshman starter Chris Guldan’s 12 points, all on treys. Kanon Sumpter, a junior, added nine.