Host St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond was tied with CHS early in the fourth quarter Friday (Jan. 4, 2019) before the Lady Hornets fashioned a decisive 11-2 run to prevail 43-34

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Lady Hornets walked off the playing court of St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond’s W.M. “Bill” Grace Gymnasium victorious, as expected, Friday night.

How the Lady Hornets arrived at win No. 9 on the season, though, was anything but expected.

BLHS’ host Lady Golden Eagles, entering with only two victories in 12 prior outings in 2018-19, proved pesky, feisty, and opportunistic before finally succumbing to heavily-favored CHS 43-34 in both teams’ Midland Empire Conference opener.

Despite a sluggish offensive start, Chillicothe appeared on track for an anticipated, lopsided victory when it led 14-3 early in the second quarter. However, stymied by a combination of their own uninspired play, Bishop LeBlond’s persistence, a closely-whistled game that led to Lady Hornets foul trouble, and, likely, the illness-caused absence of senior starter Laney Gaston, CHS went off the tracks for most of the next two quarters before fashioning an 11-2 fourth-stanza surge to break away from a 30-30 tie 30 seconds into the last frame.

While the Lady Golden Eagles had the ball multiple times in the last half with a chance to go in front, they never led.

A driving shot from the paint by Chillicothe’s Hunter Keithley, who eventually fouled out in the last minute, snapped the 30-30 deadlock only 25 seconds after BLHS drew even for the last time.

That tipped off what eventually developed into the deciding run.

About 90 seconds later, Keithley made it a 2-possessions game by banking home an 8-footer on a transition drive. Nearly 2-1/2 scoreless minutes followed that until Jordan Hibner hit her third trey of the game for a 7-points lead with three minutes to go.

It was another two minutes before Bishop LeBlond finally ended a 6-minutes scoring drought with a pair of free throws. When CHS answered with two foul shots each by seniors Maggie Pfaff and Catey Trout, at last, it was home free with a 41-32 lead with 23 seconds remaining.

Other than a general sense of lethargy that produced some uncharacteristic giveaways in the early minutes, there wasn’t an immediate sign that the game would be up for grabs in the fourth quarter.

Chillicothe scored first, but it took almost 4-1/2 minutes to do so. After BLHS tied it with a stickback, Lady Hornet Kennedie Kieffer sank four free throws in a 12-seconds span to begin a string of nine consecutive CHS markers. Hibner’s first triple and Essie Hicks’ inside shot after securing an offensive rebound made it 11-2, Chillicothe.

Ahead 11-3 going into quarter No. 2, CHS expanded its margin to 11 on Magy Thomas’ free throw and Keithley’s short shot in the lane after taking Trout’s in-bounds pass from the baseline.

Up 14-3 less than 10 minutes into the contest, the visitors looked to be clearly in charge, having allowed only one basket thus far.

The Lady Hornets would go on to surrender only two first-half field goals, but that positive defensive stat proved to be “fool’s gold.”

Although it netted only one bucket in the final 11:10 of the opening half, the Lady Golden Eagles punished Chillicothe for its foul-prone ways by sinking 11 of 14 free throws in the first half’s last 8:25. Combined with limiting the Lady Hornets to one field goal and one foul shot in the last 6:40 of the half, that led to the hosts shockingly outscoring CHS 14-3 in the last 5:20 of the half and being tied at 17 apiece as the teams retired to their locker rooms.

Seemingly roused from their first-half somnambulance, the Lady Hornets uncorked a 9-2 run in the first 2:40 of the third quarter, but soon drifted off again. Six unanswered Bishop LeBlond tallies cut the gap to one and the fourth quarter began with Chillicothe up a mere 30-28. A Lady Golden Eagles deuce on the first possession of the last stanza squared the score at 30-30, setting the stage for Chillicothe’s decisive stretch.

Statistically, CHS’ scoring was led by Kieffer’s 12 points. Keithley tacked on 10. Kieffer and Pfaff shared the rebounding lead with six apiece, unofficially.

Promising 5’11” junior forward Juliann Smith effectively worked her way to 13 points in the low post for the Lady Golden Eagles.

CHS sank 18 of its 26 free throws. BLHS went 14 of 19.