Midland Empire Conference co-champs will seek second district title, state berth in three years against surprise foe Savannah this Thursday (Nov. 7) in Chillicothe

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Although they peppered multiple shots in the direction of the Cameron goal from the outset, it took the Chillicothe High School soccer Hornets nearly 8-1/2 minutes to put one behind besieged sophomore goalkeeper Micah Vanderslice.
Once they did, the Midland Empire Conference co-champions never had a dry spell of that length the rest of what turned out to be an abbreviated semifinal match in the Class 2 District 16 Tournament Monday.
After junior back Dalton Ripley redirected into the effectively-unguarded Dragons goal Chace Corbin’s short shot off Ben Cueni-Smith’s corner kick from the offensive right side, the top-seeded Hornets never needed more than 7-1/2 minutes before scoring again and again and again until the match was called with Chillicothe ahead 8-0 barely 2-1/2 minutes into the second half.
That outcome, coupled with the unexpected 2-1 overtime victory by third seed Savannah over No. 2 Maryville later Monday at Chillicothe’s Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II, sets up a third Chillicothe-Savannah clash of 2019 at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
This one will decide the district title and which goes on to play in the round of 16 in the state tournament next Tuesday, Nov. 12. Chillicothe (10-9-1), now assured of a non-losing season after being only 6-13 with much the same squad last year, will be after its third district championship ever and second in three years.
In the Hornets’ two previous clashes with Savannah (5-12) this season, they have won 2-1 on the road in late September and 4-0 at home in their regular-season finale Oct. 24.
In those two matches, CHS received three goals from leading scorer Mason Baxter, two from senior wing midfielder Trent Norman, and one by junior midfielder Caleb Vance.
Monday’s wipeout of Cameron, the lowest seed of the four teams in the district tourney field, saw multiple individual achievements, the easiest of which unquestionably was sophomore goalkeeper Jaxon Albertson “earning” his second-straight shutout and fourth of the season. He did that without having to make a single save, unofficially touching the ball only once the entire 42:33.
In addition,
• Sophomore reserve Aiden Zimmerman notched the first goal of his career;
• Classmate Ben Cueni-Smith had what’s thought to be both the first multi-goals match of his career as he popped home a pair and the first 6-points match of his career when he also earned his team-leading 13th and 14th assists of 2019 (in soccer, goals are registered as worth two points for personal stats);
• Senior forward Kaleb Mullikin had the first 2-assists match of his career; and
• Junior Baxter, in addition to setting up Cueni-Smith’s first goal of the match, directed in his team-high 22nd and 23rd goals this season. That total moves him from a tie for fifth place (with Dylan Clark) for most goals by a Hornet in a season to a tie for fourth (with Steven Cooper). Currently tied for second are Jacob Rockhold and Derek Hussey with 25 apiece.
Monday’s match was overwhelmingly dominated by the hosts from the outset.
Chace Corbin missed three fine scoring chances before having the ball come to him near the right (defense’s perspective) goalpost and only about five yards from the goal line on Cueni-Smith’s corner kick in the ninth minute.
With only one defender’s body between him and the goal, the sophomore – pressured by a couple of Dragons to each side – got only a weak strike of the ball, but that was enough to roll it right to Ripley’s feet. The lanky “sweeper,” who normally occupies a central position behind the Hornets’ 3-man defensive backfield, had been brought all the way forward to within a few yards of the goal for the corner kick, in case Cueni-Smith’s undefended drive came in at the right height for Ripley to put his head on.
Instead, when the corner kick initially went wide of him – drawing the inexperienced Cameron ’keeper away from his line in the process, he used his feet to redirect Ch. Corbin’s slow shot past the single Cameron defender standing at the goal line. The tally was Ripley’s third goal of the season and ultimately stood as the match-winner.
It took another 7-1/2 minutes for Chillicothe to bulge the cords of the Cameron goal again, but, once it did, the floodgates opened, leading to five goals in less than 14 minutes.
Just before the match reached 16 minutes of elapsed time, freshman reserve midfielder Wyatt Brandsgaard perfectly angled and paced a diagonal pass from the center of the pitch to his right, allowing the speedy Baxter to circle past the left outside back and bore in on the goal one on one with the netminder from about 20 yards away.
That made it easy pickings for the Chillicothe sniper, who rolled a right-footed shot past the stationary goalkeeper for a 2-0 Hornets lead.
Exactly four minutes later – at 19:57, three seconds shy of the mid-point of the opening half, Baxter – the Hornets’ busiest goal-scorer – and Cueni-Smith – the top assists man – swapped their usual roles for the third Chillicothe tally.
Getting a pass in the center, about 40 yards away from the Cameron goal and with space to do some individual maneuvering, if he chose, Baxter instead either read Cueni-Smith’s position ahead of him or heard his teammate’s oral alert and deftly played the ball straight toward the goal through a seam in the Cameron defense.
With the pass sent at a speed which allowed Cueni-Smith to catch up to it just as he entered the Cameron “18” (18-yards-deep penalty area in front of the Dragons’ goal), the sophomore touched it softly to set up his stride and deliver a right-footed shot past the indecisive goalkeeper from 14 yards away.
The 3-0 Chillicothe lead that shot established held for about 5-1/2 minutes before the Hornets unleashed a 3-goals salvo in less than five minutes that blew the match wide open.
First, Mullikin’s pass allowed Baxter another fairly-easy conversion for his 23rd goal of the season at 25:34. A mere 57 seconds later, Norman popped in his third goal of the past two matches and fourth of the season from about 10 yards out directly in front of the Cameron net. The flurry was capped at 29:46 when sophomore Drake Cosgrove stole the ball at the edge of the penalty area and snapped home a quick shot from about 22 yards for his seventh goal of the year.
As Chillicothe head coach Tim Cunningham flooded Bob Fairchild Field with reserves for the last 10 minutes of the opening half, the Hornets still kept the ball well into the Cameron end of the pitch.
After several unsuccessful thrusts at the goal, Chillicothe boosted its lead to seven with 2:20 remaining in the half. Once again, Brandsgaard directed the ball ahead to a teammate – Zimmerman this time, who cashed it in from about 14 yards with a right-footed drive that cleanly beat the beleaguered ’keeper.
With Chillicothe only one goal away – if it netted it before any Cameron score – from ending the match prematurely on the state’s “mercy rule,” the second half immediately saw a resumption of total Chillicothe control.
Barely 2-1/2 minutes into the last half, Mullikin directed the ball to Cueni-Smith and his drive sailed into Fairchild Field’s north goal to bring play to an end. With his second goal of the match, Cueni-Smith doubled his previous season’s output.
Savannah’s Savages, with their triumph over Maryville in the later semifinal match Monday, avenged a pair of regular-season defeats at MHS’ hands, including a 2-1 overtime loss on Oct. 21. The Spoofhounds had stuffed Savannah at Savannah 5-2 a month before.
Savannah entered district play on a 4-matches losing streak.