North St. Joseph team's 25th win over Hornets in a row Tuesday, 65-48, gives them seventh conference title in past eight years. CHS' 12-games win streak snapped in first league loss of 2019-20
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Unfortunately for the Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball Hornets and their dreams of a 2019-20 Midland Empire Conference championship, the saying, ‘Some things never change,’ still holds true.
Hoping to simultaneously clinch at least a share of the MEC title and halt a skein of 24-consecutive losses to St. Joseph: Lafayette’s Fighting Irish Tuesday night, the Hornets surrendered the game’s first nine points in the opening 2:20, trailed 16-2 within the first six minutes, and were down by 20 in the middle of the second period on their way to a 65-47 defeat.
The Lafayette victory, which also snapped the Hornets’ 12-games winning streak, means they’ll at least share in the league title for the seventh time in the past eight years. The Fighting Irish likely will sew up the undisputed crown Friday when they meet mediocre Kansas City: St. Pius X.
The Hornets (17-4, 5-1 conf.) will wrap up their regular season at home Thursday and Friday against non-league opponent Kirksville and MEC foe Cameron, respectively. Thursday’s girls/boys doubleheader will be the occasion for the traditional late-season, “Jam the Gym” event that includes several extra activities.
If any of the Chillicothe fans in the LHS gym Tuesday were on hand for the Lady Hornets’ game at Kansas City: St. Pius X a night earlier, they might have had an eerie, early sense of déja vü.
Whereas the SPX girls hit their first six field-goal attempts – all but the last one from 3-points range – en route to a 17-0 lead in less than five minutes, Lafayette sank its first four attempts, with only the last being a triple. Combined with CHS being dry at its offensive end and the Irish owned the 9-points lead after 2:20 had elapsed.
Hornet Bradley Riley’s lefthanded lay-in off C.J. Pfaff’s pass erased the bagel from the CHS side of the scoreboard, but even Lafayette’s first miss from the floor didn’t slow the Fighting Irish as, in a fortunate break, the rebound tipped off the hand of one LHS player right to another for an easy stickback.
That tipped off another seven unanswered markers for the hosts, who’d go on lead by as many as 16 in the opening stanza.
On either side of the halfway point of the second period, Irish guard Jamar James sank four free throws – two at a time, widening the gap to 20 points – 33-13 – for the first time.
When Chillicothe tried several times late in the opening half to reach intermission behind by less than 20 points, Lafayette (13-7, 6-0 conf.) refused to cooperate.
Following junior guard Hayden Simmer’s two free throws 21 seconds before halftime, giving him six points for the half, Lafayette applied a fitting ending to the first 16 minutes. As a teammate faked a drive to the basket from the top of the key, junior guard Brayden Luikart drifted out beyond the 3-points line on the left wing, took a pass, and sank a trey a second before the buzzer Where St. Pius X’s girls collectively hit their first five 3-points tries Monday, for Luikart that shot unofficially capped a personal 5-for-5 performance from long range in the first half.
The first four minutes of the second half saw no variation from the night’s theme, except that Lafayette’s – more precisely, Luikart’s – outside shooting finally cooled. Still, the Irish netted 10 of the first 12 post-intermission points to build their lead to 28, 51-23.
Chillicothe finally had a strong stretch – its only one all game, putting together a 12-4 stretch in just over 3-1/2 minutes to get within 20 inside the final 20 seconds of the third period. However, even that modest accomplishment was blunted when, with second-stringers dominating the LHS lineup for an extended stretch, with a couple of quick passes in the last few ticks of the stanza, the Irish created a wide-open triple for James that tickled the twine as the horn sounded.
An 8-1 Hornets surge that required nearly four minutes to generate got the gap under 20 points for the first time since Luikart’s first-half buzzer-beater, with the 18-points spread a C.J. Pfaff free throw created with 3:35 remaining foreshadowing the final difference.
Statistically, Luikart’s unofficial 19 points – 17 of them in the first half – led Lafayette. Kolten Griffin added 14.
For the Hornets, Pfaff shared game scoring honors with Luikart, with Westley Brandsgaard adding 17. All but two of We. Brandsgaard’s tallies came in the last 10:40 as Lafayette very effectively blanketed him on the inside through the first 20 minutes.
Pfaff narrowly missed his seventh scoring-rebounding double-double of the season, snaring a game-high nine rebounds, according to team stats. He also blocked four shots and earned three assists, both also team-high totals.