Paced by double-digits rebounding by Keithley, Horton, 16-2 advantage in second-chance points, Keithley's 17-of-19 free throw shooting, Lady Hornets prevailed 54-48 in Kearney tourney opener Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Will face KC: Park Hill in tourney semifinals again Wednesday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

KEARNEY, Mo. — After the Kansas City Chiefs rebounded from a wayward start to their NFL playoffs game the day before, the Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets – paced by Hunter Keithley and Brooke Horton – used uncharacteristically-ferocious rebounding and a Chiefs-esque recovery to post a 54-48 victory over the Platte County Lady Pirates Monday evening.

The opening-round victory in the 45th-annual Lady Bulldogs Classic tournament at Kearney means a repeat of last year’s championship-semifinals game in the tourney for Chillicothe, which will take on Kansas City: Park Hill at 8 p.m. tonight. Last year, CHS leveled Park Hill 43-33 before falling to the host KHS team in the title game.

“They’re long and athletic, just like they are every year,” Darren Smith, CHS head coach, reported after having watched Park Hill win the game prior to the Lady Hornets’.

“They’ve got a post player (Theresa Taylor) that … didn’t play (against Chillicothe) last year and she had 20-plus points in the first half (Monday),” he noted. “… She can go right or left. Really nice player.”

Interestingly, even though Park Hill started four sophomores and a freshman in last year’s game against CHS, three of those five are not on this year’s roster, including a then-5’11” girls who hit two of four 3-pointers she attempted. The freshman who started, Kennedy Townsend, led PHHS’ scoring against Chillicothe with eight points last year and is back.

Monday’s victory by the Lady Hornets (7-4) was their third in a row. Platte County, which proved more formidable than their season’s record and some prior blowout losses suggested, sank to 3-7 after putting Chillicothe on the hot seat early.

Seven unanswered PCHS points gave the Lady Pirates an 8-2 lead 4½ minutes into the contest. A 10-0 Platte County stretch in just less than two minutes to close the first quarter and begin the second had the underdogs on top 20-8.

However, just as the Chiefs unleashed a torrent of tallies on Houston in the second period the day before after being far behind, Chillicothe threw their game into a U-turn, unleashing a string of 19 consecutive points in the stanza to take a lead they’d preserve the rest of the way.

“I thought Hunter really, really did a great job with … taking it to the basket and getting fouled,” Smith stated in a post-game broadcast interview. “… She kind of took it upon herself to be aggressive.”

Beginning with Keithley’s left-corner trey at the 6:52 mark off one of center Horton’s team-leading three assists, the Lady Hornets fashioned their comeback by controlling the backboards on both ends and emphasizing quick transitions from defense to offense off both rebounds and steals.

“The girls have really bought in, the last three games, (to) putting a backside on somebody and going and getting the rebound,” Smith said, referencing his club’s healthy 40-26 advantage on the glass, including a 17-5 margin in offensive caroms.

A Keithley left-handed layup in transition and Horton’s setup of 3-point sniper Jordan Hibner for an open look from atop the key were followed by another Keithley drive to the bucket in transition that drew a shooting foul. When she sank both attempts – part of a devastating (to Platte County) 17-of-19 showcase at the stripe for the senior, CHS had posted 10-straight points in 66 seconds to suddenly trail by only two, not 12.

“We got the tempo where we wanted it to be,” Smith recalled, regarding the change in fortunes.

Although neither side scored for the next 2:20, when points production resumed, it still was Chillicothe rolling them out in assembly-line manner.

Essie Hicks cashed in a Keithley feed on a left-side pick-and-roll to tie the game at 20 with 3:26 left in the opening half. A half-minute later, Keithley was fouled once more and deposited both attempts in the bank to give her team the upper hand for keeps.

A Keithley free throw after one of her unofficial 10 offensive rebounds – several of which came from her own missed shots underneath – quickly was followed by Hibner’s fast-break layup off a Keithley theft. Just under a half-minute later, Keithley again snared a missed Chillicothe shot and drew a foul on the putback attempt. When she cashed in twice at the foul line, the Lady Hornets had strung together 19 points in succession and led, 27-20.

Even when Platte County narrowed the gap to three, 27-24, at halftime, Chillicothe knew what to do when play resumed – crash the glass.

Just less than a minute into the second half, Horton – on her way to joining Keithley in double-digits rebounding in the game – snared her own inside miss and converted the putback. Forty ticks later, Hicks grabbed a CHS miss and, sent to the line as she tried a putback, converted once.

After a Platte County misfire, Jessica Reeter used slow-reacting Platte County defense when she picked up her dribble on the wing to set her feet and bury a trey. The six CHS points in 55 seconds tripled the halftime lead to nine points.

Chillicothe dropped into a catnap for a bit and the Lady Pirates capitalized with 5-straight tallies, but never was it able to get possession with a chance to tie the contest with one shot.

Two Keithley charities with three seconds remaining in the third quarter gave Chillicothe a 40-34 margin heading to the fourth. Hicks’ deft fake and drive from the right elbow for a layup 10 seconds into the new segment and Horton’s step-in jumper from 15 feet on the right side when her defender elected not to challenge her produced the game’s first twin-figures lead, 44-34, 45 seconds into the fourth frame.

After a long PCHS deuce, Horton – despite having met her defender’s dare and double-dare with open mid-range buckets already in the second half – gladly made the opponent regret its triple-dare with another 15-footer from the right wing before, on the next Chillicothe possession, Keithley drew yet another shooting foul and buried both shots for the first of two CHS 12-points leads – matching Platte County’s early-second-stanza advantage as the game’s widest.

“Brooke shoots it from 15 feet (when open) better than she shoots it from four (feet) contested,” Smith observed. “She can shoot that dang thing.”

He noted the junior had first-half opportunities to take the mid-range shot, but declined.

“I was yelling at her in the first half to shoot it. In fact, I took her out because she wouldn’t shoot it,” he related.

Hitting some tough shots the rest of the way while the Lady Hornets shifted to a more-deliberate offensive approach, Platte County cut the gap in half with 1:15 to play and again with 41 seconds on the clock, but, in between, Keithley completed her searing shooting at the free-throw line with two conversions in the bonus situation to help close out the victory.

Statistically, despite registering only two field goals, Keithley double-doubled with game highs of 22 points and, unofficially, 12 rebounds. As noted, she corralled at least 10 Lady Hornets misses.

Junior Horton came up just shy of her own double-double, collecting eight points along with her 10 boards, but, as previously cited, did have three of the club’s six assists.

Powered by that duo’s unofficial combined 13 offensive rebounds, Chillicothe overwhelmed Platte County 16-2 in second-chance points in the game, unofficially.

“The last two games, (Horton) and Essie and Hunter have been rebounding like crazy,” saluted Smith. “If we’ll rebound the basketball, man, that will make us a lot better in the long run. … Really pleased with the kids for that.”

While Horton missed scoring in twin digits by two and Hibner by one, sophomore forward Hicks’ two key free throws in the 1-and-1 in the final two minutes when Platte County was trying to make its late charge got her to 10 points.

Behind Keithley’s colossal night at the foul line, almost certainly among the best ever by a Lady Hornet, although a specific single-game record is not available, Chillicothe finished 16 of 21. PCHS went seven of 12.

Platte County reserve Peyton Akins came in early and proved to be an unexpected handful on offense, eventually netting a team-high 17 points. Amaya Blake, who Smith said averages about 17 points, added 14, but five of those came in the last 2:35. The CHS coach lauded Hibner, who spent most of the game guarding her.

“She played tremendous defense on (Blake). That girl out-sizes her by a lot,” he declared.

In the tournament’s other girls’ first-round games Monday, Park Hill took a decision from Kansas City: Southeast, top-seeded host Kearney crushed St. Joseph: Lafayette 58-20, and Kansas City: Notre Dame de Sion defeated Raytown: South.