After Friday (Feb. 14, 2020) home wins over Savannah, Lady Hornets will face KC: St. Pius X Monday, Hornets St. Joseph: Lafayette Tuesday with chances to effectively clinch loop titles
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — While one did so a bit nervously and the other decisively Friday (Feb. 14), both 2019-20 Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball varsity teams fulfilled their part of the bargain to set up games early this coming week that likely will determine the Midland Empire Conference’s hoops champions.
First, CHS’ Lady Hornets (14-6) never could shake the hot-shooting Savannah Lady Savages from their stinger, but also didn’t wilt under the heat Savannah kept applying, eventually gaining a 50-43 victory that raised their MEC mark to 4-0.
The Hornets (17-3) then smothered the Savannah boys’ offense all night in a 54-25 triumph – their 12th in succession – that lifted them to 5-0 in league action.
When next the Chillicothe teams take the court, they’ll have a chance to effectively clinch conference crowns as they face their biggest remaining Midland Empire obstacle.
The Lady Hornets will make up a twice-postponed contest at Kansas City: St. Pius X Monday before the Hornets journey to St. Joseph Tuesday to take on multi-time defending champion Lafayette.
To set up those games as virtual title showdowns, the Chillicothe girls had to persevere from start to finish, while the boys could coast through the final period-plus in avenging a season-opening loss on Savannah’s court.
The Lady Hornets never trailed over the last 22 minutes of their game, but also led by a mere three points with 70 seconds left in the game and never enjoyed anything more than a couple of brief 9-points cushions.
The second of those nearly-double-digits spreads, 46-37, was created by Jordan Hibner’s top-of-the-key trifecta with 4:23 remaining after Hunter Keithley grabbed an offensive rebound and fed her.
When Chillicothe missed the front-end attempt of a pair of bonus free-throw chances over the next three minutes, Savannah exploited that uncharacteristic development with a three-points play and, with 1:17 left, a 3-points shot that slashed the CHS lead to 46-43.
However, when top markswoman Keithley was fouled unwisely with still 1:09 to go in a 1-possession game, her successful double-conversion at the stripe eased the stress a bit.
When the Lady Hornets’ defense held and got the ball back, a foul off Hibner produced two more makes and a 3-possessions lead that was protected easily.
The distaff duel went back and forth through the first nine minutes with neither side able to score consecutively. Thanks to an early basket-and-1 and two triples, Savannah unexpectedly had a 15-11 lead 20 ticks into the second stanza. However, it was its last lead.
Beginning with Keithley’s driving layup from the left wing, Chillicothe uncorked nine unanswered tallies in a span of about 2:15. Essie Hicks chipped in a pair of foul shots, reserve guard Lucy Reeter a wide-open triple from the right side, and Selby Miller – another backup guard – a pull-up 15-feet jumper from the right side that made it 20-15, Chillicothe.
Five points in 26 seconds from Lady Savage sophomore Lexi Jones quickly tied the score, but, following another CHS offensive rebound, freshman Jessica Reeter found the range from downtown to the right of the key.
Now in front for keeps, Chillicothe went on its second 9-0 surge of the quarter as Hibner and then Je. Reeter again dialed long-distance to make it 29-20, Lady Hornets, with a minute left in the opening half.
Trailing 29-23 at halftime, the Lady Savages – as they would late in the fourth quarter – gnawed that deficit down to three as the final minute of the third frame began on Jones’ fast-break layup that turned into another “and-1” play.
With Savannah again with three 50 seconds into the fourth stanza, a CHS microburst provided what would turn out to be enough cushion to prevail. Two L. Reeter free throws, Keithley’s lefthanded layup after making a steal and driving virtually the length of the court, and Hibner’s previously-cited second-chance trifecta restored CHS’ 9-points margin.
Statistically in the girls’ game, Keithley led the Lady Hornets with 14 points and three assists. Je. Reeter added nine points on three treys and the approximately 5’5” frosh topped the unofficial rebounding charts with six, one more than Brooke Horton.
Savannah’s Jones topped all scorers with 18 points, hitting three triples and twice converting three-points plays.
When the schools’ boys’ teams took over the floor, Chillicothe’s unblemished mark since the turn of the year and lofty record suggested it would be a clear favorite. However, the foe was one which not only historically gives the Hornets problems, but one which had delivered one their three defeats.
However, while the game developed as the typical scoring-challenged CHS-SHS boys’ chess match, poor short-range shooting fortunes for the Savages early on and then a growing Hornets defensive clampdown put the home team clearly in charge, despite fairly-meager offensive output.
Never trailing after C.J. Pfaff popped a right triple off the first of four Mason Baxter assists a half-minute into the game, Chillicothe – with help from several missed inside tries by th Savages – denied Savannah any points in the last seven minutes of the opening period, although they only put up eight themselves. In one stretch, more than 4-1/2 minutes elapsed without any scoring.
Another 3-ball from Pfaff at the 3:30 mark of the second stanza gave CHS’ boys their first twin-digits lead, 16-5. When Hayden Simmer countered a SHS deuce with the first of his three treys as the second-period clock dropped below three minutes, the Hornets owned a dual-numerals advantage they’d build on the rest of the way.
When 3s by Bradley Riley and Simmer terminated the first-half scoring, the home team had a 25-9 stranglehold on the proceedings. Another Riley strike from outside the arc on the left side began the third-period scoring and Savannah trailed by at least 17 the remaining time.
Ten CHS points in a row late in the third stanza and through the first 2:20 of the fourth jacked the spread almost into “running clock” territory, making it 46-17. Although the visitors fought off that arbitrary, 30-points barrier for a bit, Riley’s left-side lay-in set up by senior backup center Joseph Tullos, Baxter’s weaving drive from midcourt through the entire SHS quintet, and Tullos’ banked 8-footer from mid-lane widened the gap to 31 just into the game’s last two minutes. A Savages 3-pointer with 12 seconds to go set the closing spread at 29.
Statistically for Chillicothe, in addition to Baxter’s team-high four helpers, the Hornets unofficially more than doubled Savannah’s rebounding, 35-17. Pfaff’s dozen grabs led CHS.
Scoring-wise, Chillicothe did most of its damage long-distance, knocking down 10 of its 19 3-points tries.
Pfaff’s 17 points, Westley Brandsgaard's 14, Riley’s 10, and Simmer’s nine led the winners. (Editor's Note: In the original posting of this story, We. Brandsgaard was reported to have had only only seven points, which was his credited total in the official scorebook. However, a re-examination of the scorebook disclosed that half of his points accidentally had been entered on his brother Wyatt's line. We apologize for the failure to note the scorebook error.)
Looking ahead to the critical conference games next week, St. Pius X’s Lady Warriors romped past KC: Kauffman Academy 67-32 Friday to improve to 16-4. The St. Pius X girls currently stand 3-1 in the conference, including a couple of recent blowout wins over teams the Lady Hornets have barely slipped past. However, Chillicothe’s win preceding the Savannah game had been an outstanding 9-points home win over a Maryville squad which dealt the Lady Warriors their MEC loss, also by a 9-points gap.
Lafayette’s Fighting Irish, who have won the last 24 times they’ve faced CHS – dating back to a Jan. 2, 2007, 44-43 Hornets win at St. Joe, climbed to 11-6 this season Friday, crushing St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond 63-34. It was LHS’ fifth ’19-’20 league win in as many tries.
The girls’ contest with SPX will be the second half of a 5:30 p.m. doubleheader, so tipoff for the varsity action should be in the vicinity of 6:50 p.m.
The boys’ slate at Lafayette will have two preliminary games, but, in an unusual occurrence, the “C” level opener is to begin at 4:30 p.m. That should result in the varsity game beginning shortly after 7 p.m.
Even if the CHS girls are not able to win at Kansas City Monday, they still could share the league championship – likely with both SPX and Maryville – by defeating Lafayette and Cameron at home later in the week.
The Lady Hornets’ most-recent MEC crown came fairly recently – 2017. That was the third-straight league championship for Chillicothe’s girls.
In contrast, the Hornets have not been MEC kings since 2004. To end that drought, they could not face any more daunting a foe. Neither current head coach Tim Cool – in his ninth season at the helm – nor predecessor Matt Brownsberger have yet walked off the floor after a game against Lafayette victorious. Brownsberger’s teams lost to the Irish 10 times in four years and Cool’s clubs are 0-13 to date.
Should both current Chillicothe teams emerge as either outright or co-champions, it would be the first time that’s happened since the 1996-97 squads both finished atop what then was a 5-teams league that played a double-round-robin, home-and-home league schedule.