Overcome initial 10-0 deficit, squander 9-points third-quarter lead, survive last-seconds turnover in 58-56 triumph Thursday

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — “Not very often do you come to Benton and get three wins,” Darren Smith reflected Thursday night (Feb. 6, 2020), after his Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Lady Hornets had capped just that feat with a thrilling, if uneven, 58-56 overtime over long-time Midland Empire Conference queens from the south St. Joseph school.
“Awful proud of the girls.”
A contest in which Chillicothe (12-6, 2-0 conf.) climbed out of an initial 10-0 crater to lead by five points at halftime and then by nine twice in the first several minutes of the third quarter, only to have it slip back out of its grasp late in the third stanza, found the Lady Hornets in front 44-43 less than 50 seconds remaining.
However, a trifecta by 5’11” BHS sophomore Kianna Herrera put the host Lady Cardinals back in front with about 45 seconds left and an empty subsequent CHS possession seemed like it might have sealed the Lady Hornets’ fate unfavorably when a Benton player stepped to the foul line with under 15 seconds to go and a chance to make it a 2-possessions game.
However, the first free throw in the bonus opportunity was errant and Chillicothe not only rebounded the miss, but quickly transitioned to the offensive end of the court without calling a timeout.
In doing so, they caught the tough BHS defense not quite set or knowing what to expect. Having to respect Chillicothe’s ability to hit a go-ahead trey of its own, Benton was unable to prevent a quick entry pass to sophomore forward Essie Hicks inside for a deuce that knotted the score at 46-46 with five seconds left in regulation time.
“Big shot,” Smith figuratively tipped his cap to the emerging dependable weapon.
Despite calling timeout and having four seconds to try to get the ball up the floor for a winning shot attempt, Benton did not execute well enough to take that try and extra time was required.
In overtime, neither side scored in the first minute, but, once they started to add on, they combined for 22 tallies in the last three minutes.
A Hicks drive down the lane was countered by two free throws from Benton’s Jaida Cox. Chillicothe then upped the ante by finding its single-game, single-season, and all-time leader in 3-pointers, Jordan Hibner, free near the key for her third triple of the night with about 2:15 to go in the extra half-frame.
When Benton didn’t score on its next possession and Jessica Reeter nailed two free throws for CHS, a 53-48 margin looked very favorable for the visitors, since it figured to force the St. Joseph squad to start fouling, which it did after the Lady Cardinals made only one of two free throws on their possession following Je. Reeter’s pair.
However, when the Lady Hornets also converted only one of two charity tosses on either side of a BHS deuce, Aly White’s triple with 33 seconds remaining made it 55-54, Chillicothe.
Then, in what proved to be the decisive play, following Hunter Keithley’s successful first free throw at the 29-seconds mark, sophomore reserve Selby Miller chased down the rebound of the missed second shot, quickly getting the ball back to Keithley, who was promptly fouled again.
This time, the senior – a sniper at the foul line who was six of eight for the game despite the prior misfire – buried both chances, making it a 2-possessions lead thanks to a 3-points trip upcourt for Chillicothe.
Forced to more time than it could really afford to get a shot away, Benton (4-11, 1-2 conf.) kept its hopes flickering by rebounding that missed attempt and getting a deuce on a White second try with five seconds remaining.
Following Benton’s timeout with a bit over three seconds on the clock, Chillicothe underthrew a planned long pass for Keithley and the home team came away with the ball in the battle. However, as the Lady Cardinals rushed the ball toward the basket, the CHS defense was good enough to force a tough shot that would have tied it again to miss at the final buzzer.
“It was just a struggle all night long,” Smith said of the Lady Hornets’ second-consecutive winning trip to BHS’ Pop Springer Gym, where they’d won by seven two years ago. “Typical Benton.”
By coming away with the win after the sizable quick deficit and after being behind in the last 10 seconds of regulation time, Chillicothe won in come-from-behind manner for a second-straight outing, having rallied to edge Cameron by two last Saturday.
“That was a great pre-game speech, wasn’t it?” the CHS coach was able to joke about the 10-0 Benton lead midway through the opening stanza. “… It’s one of those starts you don’t want to happen, but, wow! What resilience by the kids to come back from that.”
Destined to eventually score the team’s last three points that secured the win at the foul line, Keithley also prodded Chillicothe to start its climb out of the initial canyon when she drove the ball to the basket and drew a foul 4:04 into the contest. Although she made only one of those two tries, seeing the zero disappear from their side of the scoreboard seemed to loosen her and the Lady Hornets up on offense.
After Je. Reeter snared an offensive rebound, Keithley netted the first CHS field goal on the extended possession. Before the first quarter was out, Keithley had collected the carom of a Hicks miss and hit the follow-up to leave the score at a more-presentable 13-7 after one.
The Chillicothe senior and 3-years starter picked up in the second quarter where she’d left off, drilling a long 3-pointer which briefly made it a 1-possession game.
Benton’s Cox replied in kind and Herrera, who’d already fired home two mid-range jumpers and two treys in the first quarter, sank a sweet turnaround jumper from the low post to reestablish an 8-points gap.
That’s when Chillicothe found its game at both ends of the court and seemed to seize control.
Beginning with CHS’ first non-Keithley-produced points on Miller’s right-corner trey, the Lady Hornets zipped into the lead with a 10-0 spurt. It included Hibner’s first triple of the game, a Brooke Horton up-and-under shot, and Je. Reeter’s transition drive.
Even after Benton re-tied the game at 20 and 22, Je. Reeter’s wing trifecta and Keithley’s inside bucket closed the half, giving CHS a 27-22 margin at intermission.
When the second-half scoring began with Horton putback and Hicks’ setup of Keithley for a point-blank shot, Chillicothe had scored 21 of the game’s 25 most-recent points in about six minutes time and led 31-22.
However, the dynamic Herrera regained her earlier form and combined with Cox to power a 17-7 Benton surge that left the Lady Cardinals in front once more, 39-38, early in the last quarter.
Despite that Benton push, Chillicothe stayed either even, in front, or within three the rest of the game, finally escaping with the 2-points triumph.
Statistically, Keithley paced the Lady Hornets with 21 tallies, supported by Hicks’ 11 – all scored after the third quarter – and 10 from Hibner.
Herrera led all scorers with 26 points, hitting both four shots outside the arc and a half-dozen inside, as well as both free throws she had.
“She was incredible,” praised Smith. “She was hitting a turnaround jumper (in the low post) that I don’t know how you guard it.”
Cox added three treys and 16 points to the Benton cause.
Unofficially, Chillicothe out-rebounded Benton – which used only one player (junior White) older than a sophomore – by about 10 and hit 16 of 22 free throws, compared to the Lady Cardinals’ 8-of-16 night at the line. Those helped offset the Lady Hornets unofficially turning the ball over twice as often as the home team.
Idle since the previous Saturday before visiting St. Joseph, the Chillicothe girls again will be off for five days before having another critical MEC showdown – this time at home – against Maryville. MHS clobbered the Lady Hornets 63-39 at Savannah in early December.