THS Lady Bulldogs (24-0) broke open 46-25 Class 3 District 14 title-game win with late first-half surge that morphed into 27-4 run in 15-minutes stretch. CHS Lady Hornets end 2018-19 season 20-8.
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
HIGGINSVILLE, Mo. — The anti-scoring virus which infected all of Chillicothe (Mo.) HS’ basketball Hornets except one in their Class 3 District 14 Tournament semifinal game Thursday night claimed the entire CHS Lady Hornets squad Friday, resulting in the deaths of their respective seasons.
On the same court where, 24 hours earlier, merely one Hornet scored more than one field goal in a 38-35 CHS loss to Richmond, the passive Lady Hornets rarely shot against the undefeated Trenton Lady Bulldogs in the tournament’s girls’ championship game Friday, playing a huge role in a deceptively-productive 46-25 Chillicothe loss.
While the Lady Hornets posted a low-by-any-standards final points total, it was inflated by a far-too-late scoring flurry. Through the first 27-1/2 of the game’s 32 overall minutes, Chillicothe had made only four field goals and nad as many turnovers – 14 – as points.
So thoroughly did the combination of well-planned and executed Trenton defense and CHS offensive meekness intertwine that, after going without a field goal the entire first quarter, the Lady Hornets did not score from the floor for nearly 11 minutes (10:50) in one second-half stretch.
“I thought their defense was really good,” Darren Smith, whose fifth CHS girls’ team posted a final 20-8 record, said in a post-game broadcast interview.. “I thought they defended what we wanted to do as well as anybody we’ve played all year. The ‘looks’ (at the basket) we would normally get, we weren’t getting.”
While second-seeded Chillicothe, which played Trenton to a near-standoff through 3-1/2 quarters in their mid-December clash in Chillicothe, concluded cage action for another season, the deep, well-rounded, and very physically- and mentally-determined and honed THS Lady Bulldogs (24-0) now prepare for a state-tournament sectional round game against either Palmyra or Monroe City at Moberly Area Community College’s Fitzsimmons-John Arena next Wednesday. Each of those potential opponents, who are to meet Saturday (Feb. 23) has at least six losses, meaning Trenton will be a decided favorite in that first-round state game.
Trenton unexpectedly was only momentarily challenged by Chillicothe in Friday’s rematch.
Despite holding CHS without a basket and to only two Kennedie Kieffer free throws in the first stanza, unusually-inaccurate shooting and even-more-uncharacteristic faulty ballhandling and passing limited THS to only a 10-2 lead for all of its defensive success.
When the Lady Hornets, with the opening possession of the second stanza, quickly popped Hunter Keithley free behind a high screen and she hit a shot from 22 feet in the opening 10 seconds, CHS was behind by a very manageable five points, considering nearly 24 minutes of play remained.
After a quick Trenton driving layup by likely-All-Stater Ainsley Tolson countered the Lady Hornets’ initial field goal, Laney Gaston again fed Keithley as she popped out beyond the arc to the left of the key after a teammate’s down-screen. Catching the ball with plenty of time and room to set her feet and eye the target, the Chillicothe junior again tickled the twine for three. In under 40 seconds, the Lady Hornets had twice accomplished something they did not do the entire opening stanza and, in the process, had slashed the early Trenton advantage to four, 12-8.
At that moment, fans of both teams and, in all likelihood, both head coaches and all of the players likely anticipated it was “game on” for a potential down-to-the-wire battle between mostly-friendly, but keen, rivals.
When Trenton missed another shot and Chillicothe not only rebounded, but fairly quickly generated a wide-open 3-pointer for, statistically, its best outside shooter, Jordan Hibner, the Lady Hornets had a very good chance to pull within one point. Had the shot found its mark, while no one can know how the rest of the game might have played out, CHS’ self-confidence would have continued to skyrocket and Trenton’s might have been shaken further.
It missed, however, and Trenton rebounded and, on its subsequent possession, got an easy, right-side lay-in from sophomore forward Maci Moore off a driving Tolson’s dishoff.
Thanks to tough defense by both clubs, neither side scored for about the next 2-1/2 minutes until Moore hit again as a transition trailer, re-establishing Trenton’s lead of eight with which it began the quarter.
Keithley’s feed to Gaston for an 18-plus-footer from the left corner balanced Moore’s third basket of the quarter within 40 seconds, again making it a 2-possession game. However, Gaston’s shot was CHS’ last scoring of the half, while Trenton’s offense suddenly flashed its explosiveness.
Croy, an often-overlooked scoring weapon for coach Brian Upton’s exquisitely-balanced ballclub, went into double digits with another right-side lay-in only 17 seconds after Gaston’s shot.
That commenced a killer 11-0 Lady Bulldogs surge to close the half, with nine of the 11 coming in the last 50 seconds.
Mykah Hurley drilled a right-corner trey and, after the 10th of Chillicothe’s 12 first-half giveaways, Sidney Lynch took Tolson’s setup for a transition lay-in with 25 seconds on the clock.
Needlessly rushing to get the ball back inbounds, a CHS player failed to see Hurley, as she often does following a Trenton make, hiding behind a likely inbounds-pass recipient. When the ball was softly flipped toward that very player, Hurley simply jumped in front of the targeted Lady Hornet and intercepted the pass close to the THS basket.
Attempting a quick shot, she was fouled and made the first of her two shots. Her second missed, but Lynch out-maneuvered the Chillicothe player between herself and the basket as the shot was on its way and pulled down the rebound.
Denied on her initial putback, Lynch ripped the ball away from a CHS player for THS’ sixth offensive rebound of the first half, an offensive-glass total equal to CHS’ entire rebounding total of the first 16 minutes, and, as she fell, flipped the ball to Croy, who had floated to the left wing, not at all surprised that her hard-working teammate had managed to win control of the so-called 50-50 ball.
Taking the pass with time and room to shoot, the senior guard, who had not scored since netting the game’s first five markers, ripped the cords from 3-points land for the second time in 37 seconds, effectively giving her team six points on one 14-seconds trip down the floor.
Croy’s triple made the score, which had been 16-10 with 100 seconds left in the half, suddenly and stunningly 27-10. It almost became more as, with Chillicothe trying to hurry upcourt for a last shot of the half, had the ball stolen again. However, not enough time was left for it to get another shot away.
“Too many turnovers in that first half,” lamented Smith, not just referencing the three in the last 30 seconds.
Faced with a now-daunting 17-points deficit when it might easily have been within six or eight as the second half began, Chillicothe, as it had in the second quarter, had possession of the ball to start the third.
Again, it created and cashed in on a scoring chance, Kieffer taking a pass at the left block and, wheeling and across the lane with a couple of dribbles, hitting a short shot.
Technically, that halted Trenton’s first-half-closing skein of unanswered points at 11, but, rather than spurring another Chillicothe counterattack that could have tightened things somewhat again, the senior’s shot proved to be only a bug splat on the windshield of the still-racing Trenton offensive machine.
As things played out, that Kieffer deuce was the only CHS basket between the 1:52 mark of the second quarter and the 4:11 mark of the fourth. Making matters even worse for the Lady Hornets and better for the Lady Bulldogs, in that almost-13-minutes killer stretch, Chillicothe only supplemented that long basket with only two free throws.
While the Lady Hornets were going from 10 total points to only 14 in that lengthy, decisive span, Trenton was ringing up 27 points, including the first-half-closing 11-0 spurt, a 9-0 run in the third, and another 7-0 mini-surge to close the third quarter and start the fourth.
“They’ve just got a lot of offensive firepower that spreads you out and opens up the inside,” lauded Smith about his team’s northern rival.
By the time Hibner hit a CHS-record-tying 70th 3-pointer of the season with only 4:10 left in the game, the Lady Bulldogs had erected a monumental 43-14 lead and long since assured themselves of a 24th-straight win, a dearly-sought district championship, and a state-tournament appearance.
A final smile of the Chillicothe season which ended in disappointing manner came with 2:40 left in the game.
With some reserves already circulating into the game for both sides, Hibner had been kept on the floor by Smith in hopes she might find an opportunity to break the tie with long-time single-season 3-point-baskets record-holder Richelle Barrett she’d earlier created. The mark of 70 set by All-Stater Barrett during the 1994-95 season (not 1993-94 season, as originally posted) officially became Hibner’s alone when, behind a screen by Keithley, the junior launched a 24-footer that swished at that 2:40 mark.
“That’s a lot of 3-pointers in a season,” complimented the CHS head coach.
Her tying and record-setting triples were part of an 11–3 Chillicothe close to the game over its last 4:11, tidying up the still-lopsided final score a bit.
Statistically, only one of the numbers was kind to Chillicothe, as would be expected from the overall score. While it committed an unhealthy 15 turnovers, unofficially, its own defense influenced the usually-sharper Lady Bulldogs into 17 giveaways, by C-T count.
With that contributing to Trenton putting up only 46 points, those were statistics that, if assured beforehand, Smith acknowledged he’d have considered favorable to his team pulling off the upset.
“ I thought, if we could keep the game in the 40s, we’d have a pretty good shot (at winning),” he shared in his post-game broadcast chat, “but we just couldn’t get going, offensively.”
He conceded Trenton, by and large, was just a step ahead – literally and figuratively – of his players all night.
“They did what they needed to do,” the CHS coach credited the Lady Bulldogs “… Loose balls – they got about all of them, any 50-50 balls. They were just quicker to the ball, quicker to the spot.”
Scoring-wise, Trenton was topped by Croy’s and Hurley’s 11 points apiece, but right behind were Tolson with 10 and Moore with nine. Tolson unofficially had five of her team’s 10 assists.
Keithley topped Chillicothe with eight points.
In addition to the previously-cited long, sometimes-nearly-interminable stretches between baskets, Chillicothe unofficially was out-rebounded 24-13.