CHS Lady Hornets post only 31 points, yet win by 13. Hornets pound boards, Tigers 57-43 Thursday

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. – In amassing a snazzy record this season, the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets have prospered by pairing their routinely-rugged defense with very efficient and explosive-in-spurts offense.
Thursday night, when their usually-reliable shooting touch largely deserted them, they used a different ploy – ferocious, voracious rebounding – to send the visiting North Central Missouri Conference champions-in-waiting Kirksville Tigers home with a 57-43 defeat.
Ripping down 38 boards, according to team-kept statistics, to unofficially own a 14-caroms advantage in that department, the Hornets (18-4) made up for their “off” shooting and jumped back on the winning track after Tuesday’s disappointingly-decisive Midland Empire Conference showdown loss at St. Joseph: Lafayette.
The Hornets went after their 19th victory last night, hosting Cameron in their regular-season and MEC finale, before starting the Class 3 District 15 tournament on their home court next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. against Trenton. Chillicothe’s boys are the No. 1 seed in the district tourney, but figure to face a challenge from – most likely – second seed Richmond. Those two appear to be head-and-shoulders better than the other six teams in the district.
The Lady Hornets sagged significantly after a strong offensive start against Kirksville Thursday, but were so good on defense that it didn’t matter.
In a contest highlighted by Lady Hornets senior Hunter Keithley reaching  1,000 points for her career with a third-stanza layup, the CHS girls (16-7) kept alive reasonably-good prospects of a 20-wins season with a 31-18 triumph.
That sent them into their important MEC and regular-season finale against Cameron Friday – a challenging game they likely must win to nab a share of the conference crown – on a 2-games winning streak.
If the Lady Hornets executed that assignment, they’ll have a chance to reach 20 victories this coming week when they’re the very strong favorite to capture the District 15 title. The CHS girls will meet Lexington at 4:30 p.m. in the CHS gym in the district quarterfinals.
Facing Kirksville Thursday, the Hornets’ eventual 14-points triumph over the Tigers (18-5) would have been even more decisive if they’d been closer to the normal shooting selves.
Sinking 3-points shots at a 37 percent rate for the season, 2-points tries at 56 percent, and free throws at a 73 percent clip even after Thursday’s contest, the Hornets connected only 31 percent of the time on their trey tries and a pedestrian 57 percent at the foul line against the Tigers, although they did manage to match their normal rate inside the arc.
Still, they won going away, although it was a 1-possession game as late as the second minute of the fourth period.  Chillicothe closed the show with the game’s last nine points over the final 3:20. The dagger proved to be Westley Brandsgaard’s trey from just beyond the top of the key that began that final surge with 3:19 left.
The boys’ contest was a bit unusual in that it was very competitive and clearly up for grabs through the first 3-1/2 quarters and yet the guests, who were likely to sew up the NCMC title Friday night when they met Marshall, led only one time – and then for less than 15 seconds.
Chillicothe used an elongated 10-2 surge over the last 3:25 of the opening period to close it with a 17-9 lead. We. Brandsgaard, who finished with a game-high 20 points, ignited that run with a trifecta, too.
After being in front as much as 10 points three minutes into the second stanza, the Hornets saw that spread shrink to two, 25-23, at halftime and disappear altogether when the visitors hit a deuce about 20 seconds into the last half.
When Tiger Dylan Kinney hit a triple from the left corner in transition with 5:31 showing on the third-period clock, KHS had the upper hand for the first time, 30-29. However, 23 seconds later, an unsung Hornet – 6’4” senior Bradley Riley – flashed his own perimeter shooting skills by, off a Mason Baxter feed, fired and found the target from the top of the key, restoring CHS to the lead.
That shot ignited the game’s most-dominant stretch by either side.
Barely 20 seconds after Riley struck, junior guard Hayden Simmer took C.J. Pfaff’s fast-break bounce pass for a layup and 34-30 Hornets lead.
Following a Kirksville inside bucket, We. Brandsgaard fashioned a three-points play, Simmer got an uncontested layup on a set play as he cut “back door” from the right wing and accepted We. Brandsgaard’s pass from the right elbow, Pfaff provided a free throw, and Riley got a right-side layup off a Baxter setup. Those eight unanswered tallies created a 42-32 marging with a minute left in the third frame.
Kirksville showed its championship mettle, though, responding with the next seven points before CHS regained its stride and posted 15 of the last 19 points of the game.
Statistically for Chillicothe, Pfaff – despite a subpar shooting performance – managed an official double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds, along with team highs of four assists, three steals, and three shot blocks. It was his seventh points-rebounds double-double parlay of the season.
Unofficially, the C-T had We. Brandsgaard also in dual digits those categories with his game-best 20 tallies and 11 boards (officially, he was listed as having nine).
Joining those two in twin figures in the scorebook was Simmer, who had five baskets – two of which in the first quarter were very helpful trifectas.
Aiding in Chillicothe’s dominance on the glass were Riley with six and Simmer with five.
Kirksville’s leading scorer was forward Noah Copeland with 17 points.
The girls’ half of Thursday’s varsity game saw CHS seniors Jordan Hibner (three) and Keithley (one) fire in first-quarter treys, but then – to head coach Darren Smith’s expressed dismay – largely stop looking to take long-range shots.
When younger teammates kept triggering – and missing – from deep, the door was left open for Kirksville to heap some heat on the Lady Hornets on a chilly night in Chilli, but the Lady Hornets’ defense would not let it.
On the heels of a very modest seven first-quarter points, the Lady Tigers (11-12) made only one field goal and five points in the second before getting skunked entirely in the third. Even with only 15 points themselves in the middle two segments, the Lady Hornets waltzed into the fourth quarter possessing a 22-12 lead before having a 13-points lead at the final buzzer.
Statistically, Keithley’s 13 points led all scorers. Hibner had 12, all from beyond the arc.
Despite winning and being in front virtually start to finish, Chillicothe did not attempt any free throws in the girls’ game.
Kirksville’s meager scoring was such that no Lady Tiger have more than four tallies.