Brandsgaard's prep career-high 30 points power Hornets past host Cameron 63-44 Thursday after Lady Hornets notched win No. 17, 47-31
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — Chillicothe (Mo.) HS’ basketball Lady Hornets kept alive their solid chances for a 20-wins season Thursday night, while the Hornets, behind junior Westley Brandsgaard’s career-best 30 points, clinched a winning 2018-19 campaign.
After the visiting Lady Hornets took things in hand early with a 13-4 opening surge that set the stage for a 47-31 Midland Empire Conference road victory over Cameron, the Hornets were even more effective coming out of the nest, burying the Dragons under an early 15-1 pre-snowstorm avalanche on their way to a 63-44 MEC triumph.
Chillicothe’s girls (17-7, 4-2 MEC) have one regular-season game remaining Saturday at struggling St. Joseph: Lafayette. A win, as anticipated, there and triumphs in the first two rounds of Class 3 District 14 Tournament play at Higginsville next week would boost their conquests count to an even 20 before a probable rematch with unbeaten northern neighbor Trenton with a district championship and trip to state on the line.
Thursday’s favorable verdict for the Chillicothe boys (13-9, 3-3 MEC) made it mathematically certain they’ll complete the season on the high side of .500, not bad after a heavy graduation hit a year ago. Had the Hornets somehow fallen in Cameron’s home finale, with their own home finale against conference-leading Lafayette awaiting on Saturday, they’d have been at serious risk of heading into district tournament play a single game above .500. That might have left them psychologically sinking and vulnerable in their district opener against Lexington next Tuesday.
Instead, a good showing at district, regardless of whether they spring what would be a huge upset over Lafayette, could hike their season wins total to 15 or higher. If the Hornets play well at district, where they – like their distaff counterparts – are seeded second, they could have a solid crack at winning that title and advancing to state for the first time in nearly 15 years.
CHS’ Saturday make-up games against Lafayette – the girls’ varsity/junior-varsity twinbill at St. Joseph and the boys’ “A,” “B,” and “C” tripleheader at home – will start at the same late-afternoon hour of 4 p.m., weather and travel conditions permitting. The action in Chillicothe is to include the traditional senior recognition ceremonies, as well as the special “Jam the Gym” festivities.
“They’re really good. They’re just relentless,” Tim Cool, Chillicothe boys head coach, commented on the challenge of playing the Fighting Irish.” They’re very athletic.
“It’s going to be 94 feet (baseline to baseline pressure) the whole game. They’re going to get up and press and run. They put a lot of pressure on you when they have the ball and they put a lot of pressure on you when they don’t have the ball. It’s constant pressure and our guys really have to maintain poise and focus and we’ve got to use each other. That’s a game where the ball has to move and you’ve just got to be sharp.”
He continued with an additional warning, “When they shoot, they are really aggressive as offensive rebounders.”
Still, the Hornets coach said, regardless of Saturday’s outcome, “I’m excited we get to play a good team. It’s going to do nothing but make us better.”
Lady Hornets head coach Darren Smith assessed his squad’s clash with the lowly Lady Irish thus: “It’s one of those games you can’t let be a ‘trap’ game for you. You’ve got to go out and play hard.”
Brandsgaard put his stamp on Thursday’s boys’ proceedings at Cameron by tallying the game’s first five points on a left-wing trey not quite a half-minute in and a driving, scoop layup after a steal at the other end on the ensuing Cameron possession. The junior went on to ring up 13 of the Hornets’ first 15 markers, burying another trey inside the opening three minutes, hitting from the right block, and converting a steal into a three-points play as he was fouled after driving the left baseline. He had those 13 points before the contest was four minutes old.
Brandsgaard ended the opening period with 15 of the team’s points as the Hornets secured a 22-7 advantage that never was in danger of disappearing.
Brandsgaard had 20 by halftime, when Chillicothe led 39-20 before netting three deuces inside and four free throws in the last two quarters to reach 30 points for the first time in his high school career. He also had five rebounds and a team-lead-sharing four assists while bringing his season scoring average up to 19.4 points per game.
“Westley knows his role is to score,” CHS boys’ head coach Tim Cool commented in a post-game broadcast interview. “He’s a talented player, so he realizes he’s got to help us win games by scoring points and he does a really good job of not forcing a lot” of bad shots.
While Brandsgaard established a new career scoring best, classmate C.J. Pfaff quietly had an “average” 2018-19 night which would be the envy of the vast majority of players.
The lanky Chillicothe point guard rang up 16 points, snared nine rebounds, blocked three shots, handed out four “dimes,” and made a couple of steals. All of those were nearly identical to his season averages.
“He facilitates everything, offensively, for us and he’s also a scoring point guard, which isn’t easy to do,” Cool said of Pfaff.
Chillicothe had two underclassman depth guards back in uniform and in action Thursday after they were held out for several contests for team disciplinary reasons.
In addition, although far from a sure thing, injured senior forward Peyton Forck, thought to have sustained a season-ending great toe injury not quite two weeks ago, mentioned to the C-T he plans on testing the toe/foot in practice today (Friday) in hope of being able to play in the district tournament next week.
Cameron’s boys (5-18, 0-7 MEC) were led in scoring against Chillicothe by Nick Helmich’s 12 points.
Thursday’s girls’ competition at Cameron took a similar path to the one the Chillicothe boys’ subsquently explored.
With emerging senior guard Catey Trout twice setting up classmate Kennedie Kieffer for point-blank deuces and then swishing back-to-back 17-footers from the right baseline in the first five minutes, the Lady Hornets got out to an 8-2 lead.
“Catey Trout’s doing a great job right now,” saluted Smith. “… She does a lot of the ‘little’ things, but she’s scoring now.”
They stretched it to 15-7 after one stanza, then to 20-9 within the first three minutes of the second quarter as Jordan Hibner and Magy Thomas dropped in trifectas.
“I took her out one time just to tell her, ‘Listen, you shot 50 of them before the game from that spot, just for this moment, so go ahead and do it,’ and she hit a couple,” Smith disclosed, regarding Thomas’ impact.
That gap held for the rest of the opening half, but Cameron briefly improved its offense at the start of the closing half, cutting the Chillicothe lead to 27-21.
At that point, though, the Lady Hornets stomped on the accelerator again, riding nine of Kieffer’s game-leading 17 points to a 17-4 run that put the visitors in commad=nd at 44-25 midway through the fourth frame.
Statistically in the girls’ game, reserves Laney Gaston and Thomas joined starter Jordan Hibner in supporting Kieffer’s production with six points apiece.
“I thought we got contributions from a lot of people,” Smith said.
Cameron (8-15, 2-5 MEC) was led in scoring by Syd Nichols’ eight points.