CHS boys have begun season 6-3 on foreign courts, often with one-sided starts. Lady Hornets return to game play in need of spark
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
If you wander into the Chillicothe High School gymnasium Tuesday night (Jan. 7, 2020), that won’t be a mirage. It will be the CHS basketball Hornets in the flesh, finally playing a game on their home hardwoods 10 games and a month into their 2019-20 season.
And, if you both want to see the most-critical portion of their game against the Lawson Cardinals and participate in the annual “Teddy Bear Toss” charity event, you’ll likely need to be there for the opening tipoff at approximately 7 p.m.
Winners of six of their first nine games – five on neutral courts, the Hornets and Lady Hornets will face non-conference opponent Lawson in an evening of play that also will include junior-varsity girls’ and boys’ action at split sites.
While the JV boys and Lawson duel on the middle school fieldhouse parquet floor at 4:30 p.m., the schools’ “B” girls will square off in the first of three contests at the CHS gym at the same time.
The varsity girls’ game likely will commence then between 5:45 and 6 p.m., putting the start of the varsity boys’ action somewhere between 7:00 and 7:30.
As is customary, the “Teddy Bear Toss” – in which fans fling a variety of stuffed animals they have brought with them to donate for distribution by local emergency-service personnel to young children in troubled or crisis situations – will take place during the varsity boys’ game. As soon as the Hornets sink their first field goal (not free throw), game officials will whistle play to an immediate halt as fans fire their cuddly donations onto the court. The event is coordinated by the CHS Leadership Class.
Lawson’s varsity teams will enter the game with a 7-3 girls’ record and 4-6 boys’ mark after the Lady Cardinals won, but the Cardinals surprisingly lost at Orrick last Friday). The girls’ mark is a bit deceptive, since none of the Lady Cardinals’ victims have been been of particularly-high quality and among their losses is a 36-points setback to Cameron.
Lawson’s boys are having a subpar season to date by their standards of the past half-dozen years or so, including losing four in a row prior to Tuesday's game in Chillicothe. The Cardinals should provide CHS’ boys with a chance to make their home and 2020 debut a happy one.
While being present at the time of the opening tipoff of the boys’ game will be mandatory for anyone wanting to toss their stuffed animal, the first minutes and quarter of the contest also could be highly-decisive, if the Hornets’ trend thus far this season holds true.
When Chillicothe’s boys zipped to a 9-0 lead over St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond in the first few minutes of their most-recent victory last Monday, the game stayed true to an unusual storyline which has played out in all except one of the Hornets’ games to date this season.
In seven of their nine prior outings, either the Hornets or their opponent staked out a lead of at least eight points inside the game’s first 6-1/2 minutes.
The king of all of those blazing starts was Chillicothe blanking Trenton 23-0 in the first quarter of their meeting at Trenton (which itself was followed by THS smoking the Hornets 18-3 in the second period), while the shoe was on the other foot, to a lesser degree, two games ago when Kansas City’s St. Michael the Archangel posted the game’s first 10 points within the opening 2:10.
Between those extremes, the Hornets led Kansas City: Hogan Prep by 10 in the first 5:30, Platte County by eight after 6:05, Macon by nine after about 6-1/2 minutes, and extended the quick 9-0 surge against Bishop LeBlond into a 12-points lead within about the first five minutes. On the negative side, CHS trailed Savannah by eight after less than 6-1/2 minutes had elapsed on their way to a 19-5 deficit within the first 10:40.
Even in the two games which have not seen a significant lopsided start, there were stretches of one-sided play. The Hornets stormed in front of St. Joseph: Benton 8-3 in the first 3:40 of their championship-game battle in the Savannah Invitational Tournament and, after momentarily trailing Falls City, Neb., 9-5 during the first quarter of their first-round game in the Bishop LeBlond Holiday Tournament, Chillicothe reeled off a 14-4 spurt in the last half of the opening frame.
Contrary to Aesop’s tortoise and hare fable, the early runs have been very helpful in determining the eventual result. All six Chillicothe victories so far have seen them have significant first-period success and the two games in which they were victims of a quick blitz ended in defeats (the Hornets had a later 13-0 run of their own against Savannah, but never caught up).
However, they haven’t been an iron-clad guarantee of victory. The good start against Benton couldn’t prevent an eventual 39-36 setback.
To have had several such dominant or dominated beginnings to games over a span of nine early-season games would be notable. To have had them nearly every game prompts a search for explanation, particularly considering that, in most of the games, the teams, by and large, have shown themselves to be fairly evenly-matched.
Is seemingly-increasing, designed dependence by more teams on 3-points shooting creating situations where immediate success or failure from long range is allowing teams to either rack up points at an accelerated clip or causing them to pay a price for a frosty touch in the opening minutes?
Does a team with more fundamental soundness, better work ethic, and/or focus on executing a game plan dedicated coaches have developed through conscientious scouting find itself able to exploit a less-prepared team at the outset?
Or perhaps the evolution of the sport and increasing number of players shooting with relative accuracy from 3-points distance has, through sheer arithmetic, turned coincidental lulls by one club and hot streaks by the opponent into more-glaring runs than would have been seen in the pre-trey era or when a team was lucky to have a couple of good shooters outside the arc?
Even though he’s seen it happen time and again, Chillicothe head coach Tim Cool doesn’t have a definitive answer for why.
“I don’t know of any concrete reasons for this,” he responded to a C-T inquiry during the holiday break.
Considering that, on the two occasions (vs. Savannah and St. Michael the Archangel) when Chillicothe’s been victimized early, it has responded with runs of its own later to climb back into contention and, in many of the other games, the Hornets have fashioned extended surges at other stages of the game, the reason actually might be fairly simple and straightforward. It could be merely a reflection of the unique capabilities of this season’s CHS boys – with the offensive explosiveness provided by multifaceted seniors Westley Brandsgaard and C.J. Pfaff – being paired with the customary defensive tenacity with which Cool’s Chillicothe teams play.
“Our guys seem focused and defend well. Combine that with some consistent scoring and I guess that’s what we get,” Cool suggests.
Considering three of the Hornets’ next five games will be against teams which look vulnerable, future reiterations of the season’s quick-getaway trend might be in store, so being in your seat at the opening tipoff seems advisable.
While the basketball Hornets have been consistent, game to game, for the most part, the Lady Hornets (4-4) have been uneven.
With only two extensively-experienced veterans on hand – plus a couple of sophomores who saw some spot use last year, some ups and downs were not unexpected in the first month of the season as newer varsity-level players got their bearing. However, the veteran "cushion" anticipated to help lessen the load on the new and younger players has not always materialized, contributing to some more-sizable defeats (by 24 to Maryville, 18 to Independence: William Chrisman, and 15 to Macon) than anticipated, as well as a disappointing loss to a solid Smithville squad the last time out.
The degree of inexperience within coach Darren Smith's player rotation, along with an in-season recalibration of playing style to try to soften the learning curve for the newer players, also has had an undeniable impact as the team sought to get its bearings against a challenging December slate.
At the same time, clear flashes of the team's potential when its game is clicking, such as in a 29-points win at Trenton, 16-points home win over Columbia: Hickman, and 10-points home win over a veteran, solid Hamilton squad, have been seen.
With the Lady Hornets having had 10 days between their last game and Tuesday's clash with Lawson, there has been time for Smith and his staff and players to address in a focused manner some of the rough edges that surfaced during the 2019 portion of the season. Ttuesday's 2020 opener should provide a clear opportunity to re-establish a positive vibe and rebuild team self-confidence before opening Midland Empire Conference play at home against an improved St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond team this Thursday.