Host KHS Lady Bulldogs flood CHS with long-range shots in first half of Friday's (Jan. 11, 2019) championship game in Kearley's "Bulldog Classic" tournament, then with inside scoring in second half to prevail 49-31

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
KEARNEY, Mo. — If, prior to their Friday (Jan. 11, 2019) mid-afternoon championship-game clash with the Kearney Lady Bulldogs in KHS’ “Bulldog Classic” tournament, members of the 2018-19 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Lady Hornets previously were not familiar with the lore of the Dutch boy saving Holland from disaster by putting a finger in one of that country’s dikes to plug a hole, they now can appreciate the underlying concept – and the potential futility of such an action if plugging one hole merely causes another to appear.
While that story about the Dutch boy, which appeared in an American-penned compilation of stories entitled, “Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates” in the 19th century, is completely fictional, the Lady Hornets’ experience Friday with the solution of one problem causing another was only too real in what concluded as a 49-31 loss.
Entering the contest wisely most wary of the perimeter scoring potential of Kearney’s Taylor Frizzell, Abby Couch, and Caroline Kelly, Chillicothe witnessed that trio combine for five treys and 23 total points in the first half to stake the top-seeded Lady Bulldogs to a 27-15 intermission lead.
Having at least twice previously this season rallied from big, mid-game deficits to win over good opponents, the CHS deficit, while daunting, did not seem insurmountable to the Lady Hornets and their faithful.
And, in fact, during intermission, Chillicothe head coach Darren Smith and his staff developed and the players executed an upgraded plan for defending that trio of KHS players more effectively, so effectively, in fact, that two didn’t score in the last half and the other made only one shot – another trifecta.
The reason plugging that hole outside didn’t lead to another dramatic Lady Hornets comeback, whether it ultimately would have been successful or ill-fated, was because Kearney’s inside players poked new holes in the CHS defense that allowed their team to “win” a closer second half, too, 22-16.
While Kearney’s long-distance calls didn’t go through as well after halftime, 6’ junior reserve forward Quinn Weakley and other Lady Bulldogs forwards got better connections on shorter attempts. Scoreless in the opening half, Weakley lifted her team’s offense onto her shoulders in the third quarter to the tune of nine points, allowing the hosts to expand their margin to 16 points entering the last quarter.
All told, KHS forecourt players accounted for 17 of their club’s 22 second-half points after netting only four in the first 16 minutes.
That “pick your poison” predicament meant Chillicothe (11-3), a Class 3 school again this season, had, for the second time this year, lost a tournament title game to a foe from a larger classification. Back on Dec. 1 at Savannah, the Lady Hornets, with the championship hardware on the line, fell to Class 5 Independence: William Chrisman, a squad which, incidentally, now stands 12-1.
Kearney’s record now is almost identical to that at 11-1 after it avenged a championship-contest loss to Chillicothe in the Bulldog Classic two years ago. A few of this year’s KHS players, most notably senior Frizzell and junior Couch, were involved in that 2017 game CHS claimed.
Friday’s contest was played before a reduced-size crowd from what it normally would have because the start time was shifted forward to 3:30 p.m. tipoff to beat the worst of a snowstorm that was already arriving as the game began.
The altered start time (from the original 6:30) likely had no impact on how the game was played or its result.
Before it began, the larger, host school, with multiple players who were deeply involved in last year’s third-place finish in the Class 4 state tournament, figured to have greater depth and more breadth of offensive talent than Chillicothe.
Both of those perceived KHS advantages proved out, even though the Lady Hornets gamely battled on nearly-even terms for nearly 1-1/2 quarters.
CHS drew first blood on the game’s first possession, Kennedie Kieffer controlling the opening tipoff to a teammate and, 25 seconds later, accepting Hunter Keithley’s well-timed and well-placed lob pass from the right wing to the right block to get a lay-up for a 2-0 lead.
After Kearney tied it at 2-2 on Couch’s coast-to-coast dash after snaring a defensive rebound, 6’ senior Kieffer again established a good “seal” in the middle post along the right edge of the lane, allowing classmate Catey Trout to again lead her to the rim with a lob pass from the right wing. Kieffer’s second lay-in gave Chillicothe its second lead, 4-2, 1:40 into the contest.
Once more, the advantage lasted just under a minute before Kearney tied it, erasing what would stand as the Lady Hornets’ last lead.
An all-alone Kelly nailed a trey from the right wing at the 4:54 mark of the opening stanza to give the home squad an upper hand it would maintain – and significantly expand – the last 28-plus minutes.
Kearney ran off nine points in a row in essentially two minutes as it went from behind 4-2 to ahead 11-4, but Chillicothe demonstrated it hadn’t come 75 miles to play sacrificial lamb.
A Kieffer free throw after she claimed an offensive rebounds, Keithley’s running bank shot from about nine feet as she cut along the right edge of the lane and took Kieffer’s feed, and Magy Thomas’ free throw with nine seconds left in the opening stanza had the Lady Hornets back within three at 11-8.
However, in an early foreshadowing of their ill fate, Chillicothe’s girls became a bit disoriented as, with a couple of reserves inserted after Thomas’ charity toss, Couch was allowed to dribble the ball easily upcourt in the closing seconds and stop and sink an unchallenged triple from the top of the key just ahead of the buzzer.
Down six, rather than three, but not downhearted as Kearney got the ball to start the second quarter, Chillicothe again showed its moxie.
Defensively, the Lady Hornets held the Lady Bulldogs off the board for several possessions. Offensively, Maggie Pfaff, on the weak side, slipped to an open spot near the hoop and Keithley alertly spied her and zipped a crisp pass from the right wing all the way across the lane for a left-side lay-in by Pfaff and the Lady Hornets’ first possession of the frame. A minute later, Keithley came free at the top of the key from behind off-ball screens and, taking Jordan Hibner’s pass, nailed a triple of her own.
The 5-0 mini-run had CHS back to within a single point of the favored KHS squad and, when the Lady Bulldogs once more were thwarted on their offensive end, Chillicothe had the ball with a chance to re-take the lead.
It did not cash in on that opportunity, though, and the chance never materialized again.
In swift succession, Frizzell, Couch, and Kelly tickled the twine from downtown over a span of 2:15 to mushroom a slim 1-point Kearney lead into a double-digit one at 23-13.
This time, the second-seeded Lady Hornets would not muster a counterattack.
Scoring only two points in the last 5:45 of the first half, Chillicothe faded to the 12-points deficit at halftime. When Weakley went wild in the third stanza, scoring her team’s final nine points of the quarter, Kearney owned a roomy 38-21 lead with eight minutes to go.
A couple of Kieffer inside deuces in the first minute of the last segment gave rise to faint hope for Chillicothe fans of a miraculous comeback. When Keithley answered a KHS inside basket with her second 3-pointer of the contest to trim the gap to 11 with still almost six minutes remaining, the flame of hope flickered a few footcandles brighter.
However, Frizzell, daughter of 1980s CHS graduate Stuart Frizzell, blew out that candle with a 23-foot bomb from the left quarter-court with exactly five minutes left. Her shot began a closing 9-3 Kearney spurt which allowed the final margin to match the game’s widest spread.
Statistically, for Kearney, Frizzell led her team’s balanced offense with 12 points, although she was limited to only two field goals – both treys. She went six of six at the foul line.
Weakley was right behind her with her 11 and Kelly finished with 10.
Chillicothe’s scoring was paced by Kieffer’s 11 tallies and Keithley’s 10. Kieffer unofficially had a team-topping six rebounds and Keithley a CHS-best three assists. The duo was chosen to the all-tournament team for the girls’ division, it was announced after the game.
Chillicothe’s girls now will briefly step back into Midland Empire Conference competition, where they’re currently 1-0, by hosting league newcomer Kansas City: St. Pius X Tuesday in a 5 p.m. tripleheader.
Prior to the CHS girls participating in their second tournament-title game Friday, it was disclosed that they are the No. 1 seed for the Jan. 21-26 Cameron Invitational, so they might well get a third crack at a crown there. Smithville, which lost to the Lady Hornets by only three on a neutral floor just before New Year’s, is the No. 2 seed.