Lady Hornets will visit KC: St. Pius X tonight (Feb. 17, 2020) with chance to take death grip of 2019-20 Midland Empire Conference crown. Hornets will be in similar spot at St. Joseph: Lafayette Tuesday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Both Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball varsity teams could take total control of the 2019-20 Midland Empire Conference’s championship races on the road early this week, beginning tonight (Monday, Feb. 17).
CHS’ Lady Hornets (14-6 overall, 4-0 conf.) will visit Kansas City: St. Pius X (16-4, 3-1 conf.) tonight – varsity game time should be around 6:50 p.m. – with a chance to all but clinch the distaff title.
A Chillicothe victory over the Lady Warriors – something they have not achieved in the last three meetings, including a 4-points home loss to SPX last year in the Kansas City Catholic school’s first season in the conference – would mean the Lady Hornets could clinch at least a title share when they host woebegone St. Joseph: Lafayette Tuesday.
Even if CHS’ girls fall to St. Pius X tonight in their twice-postponed contest, they’d still be tied for the league lead with the Kansas City squad and Maryville and in position to gain at least a one-third share of the championship by defeating both Lafayette Tuesday and Cameron at home this Friday.
Tomorrow night (Tuesday, Feb. 18), the Hornets (17-3, 5-0 conf.) will carry a 12-games winning streak to north St. Joseph to clash with the defending MEC champion Lafayette Fighting Irish in a game from which the winner will emerge as no worse than MEC co-champion for this winter.
If victorious Tuesday, Chillicothe’s boys would be heavily-favored to secure the crown outright Friday when they welcome Cameron.
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 (when they defeated Cameron ***, Cameron was without its best player, the C-T has learned through sources). 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.

“It’s the same team, basically, from last year and they were really good last year,” Chillicothe head coach Darren Smith says of St. Pius X.

He believes his team has demonstrated, while playing a quite-strenuous schedule all season, it can deal with a tough game.

“These girls seem to rise for occasions. We’re not afraid of the moment," Smith said following last Friday's victory over Savannah.

"If you look at our games we’ve played this year, they’ve almost all been close. They’ve been tough. They’ve been tight. Early on, we got beat pretty good a couple of times (by Maryville, Independence: William Chrisman, and Macon), but, for the most part, they’ve been close games and I’m hoping that one’s a close game, too, because we’re in the game then.”
The boys’ slate at Lafayette Tuesday 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.

“I’m excited to get to that game,” Hornets head coach Tim Cool disclosed after wrapping up last Friday's league win over Savannah.
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 last Friday, crushing St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond 63-34. It was LHS’ fifth ’19-’20 league win in as many tries.

“They’re really good at home, … but I like how our guys are competing and how they’re playing together,” Cool asserted Friday.

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.