Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Lady Hornets cuff host 46-21 at St. Joseph, while LHS FIghting Irish were doing the same to basketball Hornets, 67-41, in Chillicothe Feb. 16, 2019
Five days later than planned, but thankfully able to barely “steal” a win from Mother Nature at their very last opportunity, Chillicothe and St. Joseph: Lafayette were able to execute their planned home-and-away high school basketball games Saturday (Feb. 16), producing the decisive split most expected from the varsity action.
At St. Joseph, where the schools’ girls’ teams hooked up, Chillicothe was the one-sided victor, 46-21. That gave the guest Lady Hornets a final Midland Empire Conference record for 2018-19 of 5-2 – good for third place behind likely-champion St. Joseph: Benton and Kansas City: St. Pius X – and an 18-7 ledger heading into Monday’s 7 p.m. Class 3 District 14 Tournament opener against tourney host Higginsville.
In Chillicothe, likely MEC boys’ champion Lafayette fended off a budding upset bid by piercing Chillicothe’s defense with torrid perimeter shooting and exploiting CHS’ lack of overall offensive weaponry as it moved ever closer to another conference title with a 67-41 varsity verdict.
The Hornets, finishing their regular season 13-10 overall and 3-4 in the MEC, are slated to open postseason play in the District 14 tourney at Higginsville Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Lexington, weather allowing.
Having scouted Lexington (9-12) twice – once early in the season and once within the past two weeks, Tim Cool, Hornets head coach, stated during his Lafayette post-game broadcast interview, “We’ve seen them a couple of times and the other night they shot it really well.
“They’ve got some talented players, they shoot the ball well, and they’re aggressive defensively. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Both CHS teams are seeded second in the district tourney, the girls behind undefeated Trenton and boys after once-beaten, defending district champion St. Paul Lutheran of Concordia.
“There’s not anything easy about winning a district tournament,” Cool said, regarding being a high seed. However, he added, “I really like our team. I like our guys. I think the mentality is good right now with our team, so that’s a very positive thing.”
A development that shouldn’t do anything but aid the Hornets’ cause at district is senior forward Peyton Forck’s brief return to play against Lafayette after suffering a great toe injury less than a couple of weeks earlier. The CHS coach initially had considered it likely the 6’3” Forck, a starter virtually all season and the team’s only true low-post presence on both ends of the court, would not be physically able to get back before the season ended.
“We’re hoping that, maybe, he’s getting to the point now (in healing) that he came come back and help us some more,” Cool said after seeing Forck’s actions during game conditions against Lafayette, including one transition play in which he ran well and leaped to make a 2-handed block of a shot.
Saturday’s CHS-Lafayette girls contest saw the favored Lady Hornets exploit the struggling Lady Irish early, getting two 3-pointers from Hunter Keithley and five inside baskets combined from Kennedie Kieffer and Maggie Pfaff in the first quarter as Chillicothe, playing a third time in four nights, scooted to a 16-5 lead.
Halftime arrived with the Lady Hornets having expanded their margin to 27-12 behind two more Keithley trifectas and a second-consecutive 11-7 quarter, in CHS’ favor, in the third left the visitors with double Lafayette’s total, 38-19.
Statistically, by game’s end, Kieffer had come on to share game scoring honors with Keithley with 13 points apiece. Jori Winn paced the Lady Irish (2-17) with eight markers.
In Chillicothe, a bit after girls’ action finished about 75 miles to the west, the host Hornets dueled Lafayette’s boys to a near-draw through the first 11 minutes, leading once – 14-12 on C.J. Pfaff’s layup after a drive from the key – late in the opening period – and being within 20-18 with 5:48 left in the first half.
However, beginning with sophomore Brayden Luikart’s left-wing trey just before the contest’s one-third mark, the Fighting Irish established their superiority behind sizzling 3-points shooting and enough inside scoring to keep CHS’ defense honest.
After spurting to a 10-points lead that Chillicothe twice cut in half on either side of intermission, Lafayette’s boys set a pro offensive pace, outscoring the Hornets 37-16 over the game’s last 15 minutes to win in a rout.
For the hosts, who observed their “Senior Night” with pre-game recognition and the starting – for under a minute – of five of the six 12th graders on their roster, the game offered a couple of competition highlights.
One was the effective offensive play of the first 10-1/2 minutes that, unfortunately, faded badly thereafter – particularly in sharp relief to Lafayette’s marksmanship and relentless attacking.
The other was junior Westley Brandsgaard reaching a career milestone in scoring during the fourth quarter. A second-year starter and extensively-used reserve as a freshman, he reached 1,000 points for his prep career thus far in fitting fashion when he scored on a power drive from the right side while also drawing a foul with 5:25 remaining in the game. Hitting quadruple figures with the deuce and receiving the basketball he used as a memento during a short ceremony before play resumed, Brandsgaard appropriately completed the three-points play, as he has dozens of times during his career to date.
“He brings so much determination and then he combines that determination with a lot of skill,” Cool evaluated Brandsgaard’s achievement.
“I put a lot on him as a freshman, just expecting him to be a varsity player right out of middle school, and he just stepped right in and competed.”
Statistically, although neither an official nor unofficial percentage was available at the time of this story’s initial posting, Lafayette seemed to hit half of its 3-points attempts in the game, finishing with 10 triples to go with 15 deuces. Four separate Irishmen sank at least two apiece.
Scoring-wise, Chillicothe was paced by Brandsgaard’s 17 points and Pfaff’s 13, but its success rate was very low. The Hornets shot a poor 42 percent from 2-points distance and half that (three of 14) from 3-points land, resulting in an overall shooting percentage from the floor of 34 percent, a season low for a team averaging 45 percent.
Lafayette, which, as a Class 4 school, still has the coming week left in its regular season, was topped by Ike Book’s 16 points with Luikart netting 15 and Kolten Griffin 10. Ten Irish players scored, compared to CHS’ five.