Down five points with two minutes left against host in Cameron Invitational Tournament third-place game Saturday, Chillicothe (Mo.) girls prevail 52-50

CAMERON, Mo. — With emerging inside players Essie Hicks and Brooke Horton providing strong contributions throughout and the key plays at crunch time, the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Lady Hornets slipped away with third-place honors in the annual Cameron Invitational Tournament with a 52-50 victory over the hosts late Saturday morning (Feb. 1, 2020).

With lithe sophomore forward Hicks having kept the Lady Hornets in contention with a career-best scoring night, junior post player Brooke Horton converted a go-ahead three-points play with 35 seconds remaining. After Hicks netted a free throw – her 24th tally of the day – for a 2-points lead with 16 ticks on the clock, the 5’11” Horton blocked a would-be game-tying shot with two seconds left and Cameron could not get another shot away.

Said Darren Smith, Chillicothe head coach, in a post-game broadcast interview, regarding Hicks, “Man, what a (game) she had. She and Brooke Horton both were huge in that fourth quarter.”

He lauded his squad for maintaining poise and focus as it spent the first 15 of the 16 minutes of the second half trying to battle from behind.

“Really proud of the effort, just the intensity and we never lost hope,” Smith stated.

After four games – three very tough and physically-demanding – in eight days, the Lady Hornets (11-6) now have a few days away from game action before the closing stretch of their regular season hits. They’ll next play at Midland Empire Conference foe St. Joseph: Benton next Thursday (Feb. 6).

The way Saturday’s third quarter ended and fourth began, the Lady Hornets could have folded up shop and figured it wasn’t their day.

In a contest Chillicothe had just tied up on Horton’s inside hoop, Cameron Lady Dragon Arli Smith, without a point previously, tracked down a long, loose-ball rebound of a teammate’s missed shot and connected on a 3-pointer from near midcourt as the horn blared, ending the third quarter.

Then, on the opening possession of the fourth stanza, A. Smith again found the range from beyond the arc. Her back-to-back treys in a half-minute apart suddenly gave Cameron its widest lead of the contest, 42-36.

However, on the next Chillicothe possession, Hicks snared an offensive rebound and drew a foul on her putback attempt. She hit both tries to keep Cameron from having a chance to build additional momentum.

Still, the Lady Dragons (11-5) effectively matched Chillicothe point for point over the next five minutes before the Lady Hornets’ finishing kick.

With just over 1:50 to play, Hicks drove the lane from the high post to draw Chillicothe within 49-46. Following a defensive stop, she took a pass from Hunter Keithley inside and hit again with just about a minute remaining.

When A. Smith made only the first free throw of a bonus opportunity with 43 seconds to go, Chillicothe gained possession on the last of Horton’s approximately10 rebounds with a chance to tie with a deuce or lead with a trey. They got the former, but it turned out to be worth the latter.

As Keithley worked the ball up the offensive right side of the floor in transition, Horton hurried upcourt to get good low-post position against her strong counterpart. Keithley alertly spied the situation and fed the ball to her teammate in a manner which allowed Horton to turn and have a good shooting angle from short range.

That positioning drew a foul as Horton released her shot, which, for a count or two, hung on the iron before, at last, dropping in to tie things at 50. The Chillicothe player then dropped in her free throw, as well, giving her team its first lead since late in the first half.

“What a moment for her!” Smith exclaimed in his post-game interview.”

Cameron senior Laini Joseph, an outstanding player who moved to Cameron from Indiana prior to this school year, drew a foul as she attacked the bucket with 24 seconds to go. Having reached the 1,000-points mark for her high school career with a trey late in the first half, she missed both of her charity tosses and Chillicothe rebounded.

After Hicks sank one foul shot with 16 seconds left, Cameron again turned to Joseph for its potential tying or winning shot, but, as the guard drove, Horton reacted and swatted the try out of bounds with just under two seconds remaining. When the ball was in-bounded, the Chillicothe defense prevented Cameron a chance to fire up a shot, letting the Lady Hornets head home victorious.

The late heroics at both ends of the court allowed Chillicothe to snag a come-from-behind win in a game it looked early like it would own easily.

After Hicks foreshadowed her huge offensive day with the game’s first field goal, a pair of 3-points baskets gave the Lady Hornets an 8-0 lead with barely two minutes elapsed. In the latter half of the opening stanza, Horton’s foul-line jumper and Hicks’ paint drive after faking her defender off her feet raised the Chillicothe advantage to nine points, 15-6, but then the wheels came off.

Beginning with the last basket of the first quarter, Cameron outscored the Lady Hornets 16-5 the remainder of the half to be in front 27-22 at intermission. Although Chillicothe did square things just before A. Smith’s buzzer-beater to end the third segment, the Lady Hornets trailed all the rest of the second half until Horton’s “and-1” play with 35 seconds to go.

Statistically, Hicks’ 24 points led all scorers. She was the only Lady Hornet to score in double digits.

“She’s been working toward this,” Smith related. “We’ve been seeing it coming. We found a little glitch in what she was doing and we tried to correct that and she’s worked hard to correct it.”