Another lopsided start – this time seeing them outscore Lawson 21-3 in the opening stanza – rockets 7-3 Hornets to eventual 60-25 non-conference triumph Tuesday (Jan. 7)
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — There was virtually nothing new or unexpected about the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Hornets’ seventh victory of the 2019-20 season Tuesday night (Jan. 7, 2020).
Facing a struggling Lawson Cardinals squad, the Hornets – as has been their wont virtually all season – used yet another overwhelming beginning to set the stage for an eventual 60-25 laugher.
The only notable variation was the location. More than a month after commencing the current season, the CHS boys this time performed on their home hardwoods and, literally, looked right at home doing so.
With the game marking the annual “Teddy Bear Toss” charity event in which fans were invited to bring stuffed animals to the game and, on the occasion of Chillicothe’s first field goal, fling them onto the court, the Hornets’ C.J. Pfaff controlled the opening tip and fellow senior Westley Brandsgaard used a head fake to drive and score from the left wing only 16 seconds in. As the gifts to be donated by the CHS Leadership Class for Livingston County youngsters in crisis filled the air and flooded the floor, play was halted for couple of minutes while the bounty was collected.
Once the action resumed, Chillicothe (7-3) asserted its dominance at both ends of the court.
After Lawson was denied points on its initial possession, junior Hayden Simmer made the Cardinals pay an early price for its box-and-1 defensive focus on Pfaff by cashing We. Brandsgaard’s pass into a left-corner trey and 5-0 CHS lead only 47 seconds in.
Lawson completed a three-points play 65 seconds later to momentarily draw within two points of the Hornets. By the time the Cardinals supplemented its total, the second quarter was underway and Chillicothe owned a 21-3 lead.
Beginning with a We. Brandsgaard free throw at the 5:45 mark of the opening period, the Hornets ran off the final 16 points of the stanza with their three senior starters doing most of the heavy lifting.
A quick reversal of the ball around the perimeter set up a “3” from the left corner by We. Brandsgaard before he followed his defensive-end steal with an alert pass to Pfaff ahead of the pack for a 2-handed jam and 11-3 gap after only 3:20.
A missed Lawson shot was grabbed in the paint by 5’9” junior guard Mason Baxter, who made an end-to-end rush he finished with a layup past a defender. A minute later, senior Bradley Riley was fouled while trying a stickback and converted both free throws to make it 10 unanswered CHS points.
With nifty execution, a Hornets steal led to Baxter’s perfectly-timed and -placed pass to Riley for a fast-break layup, making it 17-3. Riley netted another foul shot 47 seconds later before Pfaff’s give-and-go with freshman Griff Bonderer in transition produced a three-points play for the gangly senior. Fifty-two seconds before the opening period ended, the Hornets had eclipsed the 20-points plateau and, with 16 points in succession, possessed a 21-3 lead that held to the end of the frame.
As highlighted in the C-T last weekend in a story previewing the Hornets’ home opener, that huge gap fit hand-in-glove with the team’s trend through its 2019 play. In seven of the prior nine outings, a lengthy, early stretch of dominance by one team or the other – most often by Chillicothe – had played an important role in the game’s eventual result.
This one proved no different as, over the last three quarters, Chillicothe’s control was unwavering. The closest Lawson got thereafter was 14 points at halftime and again early in the third period.
With the Cardinals (4-7), losers of four straight now, theoretically still in contention at 35-21 just over two minutes into the second half, Chillicothe notarized its rout plans with a 17-1 stretch that extended into the fourth frame.
That largely-superfluous surge established a 30-points spread which initiated use of the “running clock” for all but 15 seconds of the remaining 6:15.
Statistically, CHS received double-digits scoring from its three starting seniors, each of whom put the ball in the bucket at a high percentage. Even though he didn’t score in the last 13 minutes, Riley netted a game-best 12 points, the first time in his varsity career he’s paced the Hornets and the first time in the past 37 CHS boys’ games – dating back to the final regular-season game of 2017-18 – that someone other than We. Brandsgaard or Pfaff had topped the Hornets’ scorebook.
This time, it happened by the thinnest of margins as those two each contributed 11 points in their limited playing time Tuesday. As a trio, Riley, Pfaff, and We. Brandsgaard deposited nine of their 13 2-points shot attempts in the hoop as part of an overall team percentage of 68 inside the arc. They also shared the team’s rebounding lead on the night with five each and We. Brandsgaard secured a career-best six steals.
Nine of the 10 Hornets who played scored, with Baxter, who held the Lawson player Chillicothe coaches considered the most dangerous scorer to a single basket and three points, dishing out a team-high five assists and making three swipes in addition to tallying eight points.
With only 25 points overall – including a mere three each in the first, third, and fourth periods, it was not unsurprising Lawson did not have a twin-figures scorer. Emmett LaFleur’s seven – all in the second quarter – paced the Cardinals.
Next on the Chillicothe boys’ docket is their Midland Empire Conference opener this Thursday (Jan. 9) at St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond. The Hornets beat the Golden Eagles 60-36 on the BLHS floor a week ago Monday during the LeBlond Holiday Tournament.
“If we let them, they’re going to have the mental advantage – playing at home after we’ve beat them already,” CHS head coach Tim Cool warned after Tuesday’s victory. “So, our guys have to go in there convinced that they’ve got to fight and play as hard as they can.”
LeBlond currently is 6-6 after being drilled, 68-40, by Falls City, Neb.: Sacred Heart in last Saturday's second-annual Steve Vertin Classic event at Bishop LeBlond.