Attacking mentality in half-court, transition sets up 61-44 Thursday (Jan. 9, 2020) triumph over St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — In a scenario very much like what their male counterparts experienced Thursday, s year ago, Chillicothe High School’s basketball Lady Hornets team were expected to cruise to a Midland Empire Conference-opening win at St. Joseph’s Bishop LeBlond, only to find themselves tied early in the fourth quarter before winning by nine.
When the schools’ distaff contingents took the court Thursday night – 24 hours earlier than originally planned, due to weather and travel-conditions concerns Friday, even with a significantly-improved BLHS to battle, the Lady Hornets used a markedly-more-aggressive approach to get an early handle on the game and eventually post a 61-44 triumph.
Looking to get the ball into and around the paint area more when in the set offense and to get into transition at every opportunity, the CHS girls put together a 12-0 first-quarter surge and an 11-3 stretch at the start of the second half to establish – and then re-establish – a grip on the proceedings. Then, a quick flurry of four 3-points shots in the first three minutes of the final stanza mushroomed a 12-points lead to 20 as Chillicothe secured its 2019-20 MEC opener.
“I thought we played pretty tough, pretty good basketball,” a clearly-pleased Darren Smith, CHS head coach, told the C-T afterward. “We got a lot of ‘looks’ inside, which is something we don’t get a lot of a lot of times. We attacked.”
While the “attack” mentality the team had not really shown of late resurfaced led to a few overexuberant turnovers, the scales tipped heavily to the favorable side, in terms of overall impact.
“When we went on our spurts, it was when we were playing fast,” the coach recalled.
“In that second quarter, we turned the ball over a lot. Seemed like about one out of every two (possessions), we were turning it over. We got our feet going too fast; we were too anxious.
“But we were turning it over – most of the time – attacking. It was a travel call, it was something attacking the basket, so I’m pleased with that.”

Much to Smith’s approval, his team heeded his call for greater assertiveness from the very first possession of the game. Aside from the 10 first-half turnovers and second-quarter defensive rebounding breakdowns for which he assumed some of the blame, he saw the plan produce the desired results.
After failing to convert a drive to the basket on the first possession, the Lady Hornets quickly responded to Bishop LeBlond’s opening basket with Jessica Reeter’s driving deuce from the right wing to the baseline. Almost as soon as Sloan Lewis of the Lady Golden Eagles (7-6, 0-1 conf.) scored in the low post again, Chillicothe had the ball back at the other end and was drawing a foul on a putback. Essie Hicks’ two perfect free throws erased the last lead the visitors would own.
A quick Chillicothe steal on the subsequent BLHS led to the first of four Hunter Keithley fast-break layups, this one putting the home team in front for keeps.
Within 15 seconds, the Lady Hornets had the ball again and Brooke Horton also made BLHS pay for an inside foul with two free throws. Following another quick defensive stop, the Lady Golden Eagles’ focus on having to defend around the basket led to senior sniper Jordan Hibner being left open for a right-wing triple for an 11-4 advantage less than 3:20 into the contest.
As the visitors continued to be ineffective on offense, Keithley converted one of two free throws and then again released early when Bishop LeBlond missed another shot and was ahead of the pack for a breakaway deuce that boosted her side’s lead to 14-4.
Finally demonstrating to the Chillicothe crowd its advancement from the past several years of often-uncompetitive performance, the St. Joseph Catholic school’s squad responded with six points in a row to finish the opening period behind only 14-10. However, that would be as close as it would get, even with the Lady Hornets having some defensive rebounding and ballhandling gaffes in the second segment.
Despite surrendering nine offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points in the opening half – most of both in the second stanza, the Lady Hornets went to the locker room on top 25-20.
“The first, third, and fourth quarters, I thought we rebounded pretty well,” Smith analyzed afterward. “The second quarter – we were pretty lax.
“Part of that was we went to a zone and we don’t play a lot of zone. We don’t practice a lot of zone, but I wanted to work on it just a little bit.”
Less than 20 seconds into the third quarter, the visitors had a chance to close to within three points with a couple of free throws, but didn’t convert either. Chillicothe soon made its second push.
Freshman Je. Reeter, who had six in a home win two nights before, canned a 3-pointer from the right wing at the 6:40 mark of the third stanza, igniting an 11-2 surge in barely 2-1/2 minutes.
Another cherry-picking Keithley layup, Je. Reeter’s 10-foot pull-up jumper after collecting a loose ball, another Keithley runout deuce, and Horton’s right-side lay-in off a perfectly-timed and -placed pass to the block from Je. Reeter on the right wing left CHS on top 36-22 three minutes away from the end of the quarter.
A Bishop LeBlond flurry brought it momentarily back within single digits at 37-29 in less than a minute, but young guards Je. Reeter and Lucy Reeter caught the Lady Golden Eagles snoozing a bit after Sl. Lewis’ three-points play that cut the margin to eight. With a quick in-bounds pass to Je. Reeter and her longer toss to sophomore L. Reeter already deep in the forecourt near the right corner allowed her a clean look from beyond the arc, which she buried.
A minute later, with Keithley in the setup role, another quick transition resulted in L. Reeter depositing a left-corner trifecta. Barely a minute after the gap had dropped to eight, it was back to a then-game-best 14.
On top 43-31 to start the final frame, Chillicothe continued the 3-pointers theme with which it had ended the third.
Ten seconds into the fourth, the fifth of Je. Reeter’s unofficial six assists in the game let Hibner splash in a trey. A countering inside bucket by Bishop LeBlond was more than offset 20 seconds later by another Hibner triple.
After a mid-range jumper by the guests, Keithley quickly reminded the foe she could score on something other than layups. Accepting a pass from Hibner, she connected from the left side from 20 feet. She then underlined that fact by, exactly a minute later, once again tickling the twine from 3-points distance. Chillicothe’s sixth trey in a row – all without a misfire – in less than five minutes of game time had turned it into a 20-points game with five minutes to go.
Smith agreed with an observation that the fast pace at which his team had played had left Bishop LeBlond’s players with tired legs that made it hard to get out and defend the perimeter in the second half.
“That’s what that little ’scramble unit’ is supposed to do at the end of the first quarter is just pick up that tempo and try to wear them down,” the coach said, referencing the five players he inserts as a group a time or two during the game.
“It doesn’t show up right then; it shows up later in the game.”
Statistically, the late blizzard of CHS 3s – Hibner hit her fourth of the game about 40 seconds after Keithley’s second to give the Lady Hornets seven in 5-1/2 minutes – left it with nine on the night. That followed a dozen in a blowout of Lawson two nights earlier.
In individual scoring, Keithley’s load of layups and late trifectas gave her a game-best 19 points. Hibner hit for 12 and Je. Reeter provided 11. Horton and L. Reeter supplied another seven apiece as the Lady Hornets matched their season high for points.
Impressive 5’10” sophomore Sl. Lewis had 14 to pace Bishop LeBlond.
Thursday’s junior-varsity contest was taken by Chillicothe, 33-11. Sophomore post player Sophia Luetticke netted a game-high nine points for CHS. She later added a deuce near the end of the varsity contest.