After sluggish season opener Monday, deliver 61-42 triumph Thursday to gain spot in Savannah tournament championship game Saturday (Dec. 7)
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
SAVANNAH, Mo. — In the wake of a sluggish performance in their 2019–20 season opener Monday, the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS’ basketball Hornets needed a big, decisive win Thursday (Dec. 5) to gain a berth in the championship game of the 91st-annual Savannah Invitational Tournament.
They delivered emphatically.
Requiring at least a 13-points triumph over Platte County Thursday to, first, tie with PCHS and host Savannah for the top spot in their 3-teams pool and then secure the tiebreaker advantage, Chillicothe bolted to a 12-4 lead behind senior forward Westley Brandsgaard in the first 6:10 and then broke away from a 2-points game with a 14-2 stretch bridging halftime to eventually claim a 61-42 triumph over the Pirates.
“That was a lot of determination and guys just playing really hard and helping each other,” Tim Cool, in his ninth season as Hornets head coach, summarized his team’s turnaround performance.
“I’m really proud of our guys to bounce back like that, and it wasn’t just tonight that we bounced back. We bounced back Tuesday at practice. Our guys showed up and they were ready to go and we worked on things and they got better.”
As their reward, the Chillicothe boys will square off with St. Joseph: Benton in the long-running tourney’s title game. Benton started strong against Maryville in the game after Chillicothe’s and, behind well-balanced scoring led by reserve Kamren Caine's 17 points, kept the Spoofhounds at bay the rest of the way to register a 63-43 victory that advanced the Cardinals to the championship contest.
After losing to Savannah by five points and seeing PCHS’ Pirates scuttle the host Savages by 24 Tuesday, CHS entered Thursday’s game needing to win by enough points to pass the sinking Pirates.
The tipping point would be 13 points, since the preset cap any team could gain or lose in any game was 20. Less than 13 and Platte County still would best them on overall points differential (a 12-points CHS win would have left the Hornets with plus-7, but Platte County at plus-8. On the other hand, a 13-points win or more by Chillicothe would give them at least a plus-8 differential and the Pirates would sink to plus-7 or lower.
So, even with Chillicothe ahead 26-16 at halftime, there still remained work to do. It was done.
Following a 10-2 close to the second period, Chillicothe stuck the first four points of the second half on the scoreboard, momentarily putting themselves on the right side of the overall points differential.
A PCHS spurt cut it back to a 10-points game, but the Hornets were not to be denied after traveling that far down the road.
A third extended surge – this time a 20-5 push over a 4-1/2 minutes stretch of the third and fourth stanzas put CHS on top by 25 with 4:29 left in the game and effectively settled the pool standings with the Hornets (+14) on top, Platte County second (+1), and Savannah third (-15).
“It’s a team win and a big win for us. I’m happy for our guys and I’m excited to be playing on Saturday,” Cool stated in a post-game broadcast interview.
We. Brandsgaard set a dominating scoring tone early, then fleshed out his performance to eventually generate a double-double in points and rebounds.
Attacking the basket repeatedly, as is his wont, he scored the Hornets’ first eight points on a trey and five free throws. He ended the first stanza with 10 of Chillicothe’s 12 points, then put up nine more in the second frame while ripping down a handful of boards.
“Our guys trust Wes and the coaches trust Wes” to recognize what shots to take or try to create,” the Hornets coach expounded. “The reason we trust him so much is he’s put in a lot of work.”
“… He was our spark in the first half, offensively, and our defense was our spark, as far as getting a little more momentum, because we were getting a lot of ‘stops.’”
While teammates picked up the scoring pace after intermission, the senior snared seven missed shots – one becoming a putback three-points play – in the third quarter and eventually wrapped up the night with 28 points – just below his career high – and, unofficially, a career-best 15 rebounds.
And he wasn’t the only Hornet to reach twin figures in both points and caroms. Although he made only two baskets, 6’4” senior point guard C.J. Pfaff tallied 11 points – going seven of nine at the charity stripe, while corralling 11 rebounds, unofficially.
Hornets Mason Baxter (six) and Bradley Riley (five) did their share of dirty work around the glass, helping the team unofficially out-rebound Platte County 44-38.
“We had contributions from everybody,” Cool said in typical praise-spreading style. “I thought Mason Baxter was super good, defensively especially.”
As for Riley, a slender, 6’4” senior forward who followed up a strong rebounding showing against Savannah in the opener Monday with another effective night that also involved scoring 10 points, the coach lauded, “He has just built his game more and more every day in practice and every game we play. … He’s with us all summer. He never misses anything in the summer, so that’s really helped him.
“He’s grown into a really good player.”
Statistically, in addition to previously-cited CHS numbers, Pfaff dished out five assists and Riley and Baxter three helpers each.
Platte County’s scoring was led by sophomore guard Jace Trimble, who hit for 13 points.
Cool said his team’s reversal of form from Monday’s loss commenced with the next day’s practice and extended right through Thursday.
“We talked both days about playing great, tough defense and making the ball move offensively and getting great shots. …I thought our shot selection was much better and, defensively, we played great. Those first two quarters were really good.”