(Updated Sunday, March 1, 11:45 p.m.) Once again, CHS girls will carry the school colors alone after a possible district-titles sweep slips away Saturday night (Feb. 29, 2020) in boys' game

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Once more, the journey on into state-tournament play will be a solitary one for Chillicothe (Mo.) HS’ basketball Lady Hornets.
A short 9-0 spurt bridging the third and fourth quarters proved decisive for CHS’ girls Saturday night (Feb. 29, 2020), turning a 24-21 deficit into a 6-points lead over the determined Trenton Lady Bulldogs, an edge the Lady Hornets preserved over the final 5:40 of a 37-31 homecourt victory in the championship game of the Class 3 District 14 tournament.
“We’ve been in a lot of (close) games just like this,” Darren Smith, sixth-year Lady Hornets head coach, reflected in a post-game broadcast interview. “… I felt like that helped us.
“We never panicked. I never saw panic in their eyes at all. I saw a lot of encouraging each other. I saw them still looking for each other, nobody thinking, ‘I’ve got to,’ and that’s important, because ‘I’ve got to’ doesn’t win very often. It’s just, ‘We’ve got to.”
For a third time in the past six years, the Lady Hornets’ triumph set up a possible CHS sweep of district hoops honors, but, on February’s quadrennial extra day, the Hornets – despite a game-long lead until the final minute – yet again did not make the leap to state play with their female counterparts.
Ahead ever since Hayden Simmer’s free throw snapped a 3-3 deadlock in the contest’s third minute, Chillicothe’s boys turned tentative and cold on offense in the last 11 minutes of their contest. They let a 39-25 lead just past the mid-point of the third period dissolve into a 53-52 loss to the second-seeded Richmond Spartans.
Richmond (25-3) led only once – at the end – on a right-wing trey by guard Dionte Marquez 38 seconds before the final horn. In the remaining time, Chillicothe attempted only one shot, which was blocked and recovered by RHS.
“Sometimes it just doesn’t work out,” Tim Cool, Hornets head coach, clearly still shaken some 15 minutes after the game’s end, commented for the C-T. “Again, I’m a little stunned that we didn’t win the game.”
As a result, the Lady Hornets (20-7) will be Chillicothe’s only team involved in next Wednesday’s (March 4) Class 3 state tournament sectional (first) round action at Moberly Area Community College’s Fitzsimmons-John Arena.
They’ll play District 13 champion Macon (22-4), a squad which bested them 67-52 at Macon on Dec. 17.
“We’re going to have to battle our tails off defensively, we’re going to have to make some shots, and we’re going to have to rebound the basketball,” Smith gave a Cliff Notes synopsis of keys to his squad’s requirements for flipping the script on the Tigerettes.
The CHS girls’ advancement predictably proved far more difficult than their 58-29 doubling of Trenton in another mid-December match.
Chillicothe led a couple of times early and, despite going over five minutes without a point, used an Essie Hicks basket in the final 40 seconds of the opening stanza to lead 8-7 after one.
The Lady Hornets locked up on offense again at virtually the same time in the second quarter and this time it cost them the lead.
While holding the hosts pointless for virtually six minutes this time, THS Lady Bulldogs – trying to repeat as Class 3 district champs – generated only a half-dozen points themselves, although that eased them in front, 15-12 with 1:28 left in the opening half.
Although a Hicks free throw nudged the CHS total up to 13 with 22.5 seconds left in the half, Trenton star forward Maci Moore’s left-side lay-in with nine seconds remaining made it 17-13 at the half.
“We didn’t finish well in the first half around the basket,” Smith recalled. “We’ve got to be better at that. I think that’ll be something we work on this week.”
The exception to CHS’ inside shooting problems before intermission was sophomore high-post player Hicks. She produced nine of the Lady Hornets’ 13 points in the first two stanzas.
“I thought Essie Hicks did a great job,” Smith agreed.
Chillicothe senior Hunter Keithley scored inside twice in the first 50 seconds of the final half – the first of those deuces being the team’s first field goal in 6-1/2 minutes, but Moore got a good bounce off the iron on a 3-pointer from out top to give her team back the lead by three.
After Hicks, whose 15 points led Chillicothe’s scoring, quickly struck for a 12-footer in the paint, neither side scored for nearly three minutes. Finally, two THS buckets with a Jessica Reeter inside basket for CHS in between left the score at 24-21, Trenton, entering the last two minutes of the third stanza.
With Smith having swapped defenders on the troublesome Moore midway through the quarter – putting fresher, quicker sophomore reserve guard Selby Miller on her after the taller Hicks had tracked her everywhere for most of the first 20 minutes, Trenton struggled to find chances to get its big weapon the ball anywhere but far out-court.
“I thought Selby, giving up about six inches (of height), did a heck of a job on her,” lauded the Chillicothe coach.
With Miller shadowing Moore's every step and keeping the ball out of her hands, the Lady Bulldogs’ attack fell flat and Chillicothe’s offense seized the opening.
Another Je. Reeter driving deuce with 1:56 left in the third stanza cut the difference to one again and, after a Trenton turnover, Chillicothe hurried the ball to the forecourt to Keithley in transition.
Rather than try to take the ball toward the basket from the right wing, Keithley moved toward the top of the key, drawing two defenders with her. That left CHS’ other senior, long-range ace Jordan Hibner, alone on the right wing as she trailed the play.
Taking Keithley’s alert pass, Hibner knocked down her only trey of the game – her 70th on the season – and the lead again rested in the home team’s hands. It stayed there.
“Jordan is so valuable to our team, because – if you’re going to guard her (closely even when she doesn’t have the ball) like they did tonight – that’s going to open up other people” like Hicks inside and Je. Reeter on drives and mid- and long-range shots.
A couple of Keithley free throws 16 seconds before the third frame ended made it seven CHS points in a row and left it ahead 28-24 with a quarter to go.
With Miller shackling Moore to keep her hands off the ball on offense, Trenton’s scoring woes worsened. Eventually, just over 7-1/2 minutes elapsed with its side of the scoreboard stuck on 24.
Still, Chillicothe didn’t exploit its defensive success much, scoring only once itself in the first 5-plus minutes of the last stanza. That came on Miller’s unguarded, point-blank shot from the right side off a driving Keithley’s wraparound pass at the 5:40 mark.
When Moore, forcing the issue after going well beyond the top of the key to get her hands on the ball, used a spinning drive to get into the paint and create a three-points play with 2:37 left in regulation time, despite THS’ long scoring snooze, it was a 1-score game, 30-27.
Already into its “delay” game, Chillicothe cut an important minute off the clock before Hicks was purposely fouled. The 10th grader coolly popped in both attempts with 1:33 left.
Moore then cleaned up a teammate’s missed shot and, with 1:12 on the clock, the underdogs again were down by only three.
Hicks again was sent to the stripe and buried both tries with 55 seconds left, only to have Moore draw a debatable foul as she caught a teammate’s pass and tripped over a Chillicothe player’s foot. Connecting twice more at the line, she pulled her club within 34-31, but that turned out to be the end of the Lady Bulldogs’ scoring.
Fouled with 34 seconds to go, Hibner sank the second of her two tries to make it a 2-possessions game. After Trenton used up important time before Keithley tipped a pass into Horton’s hands, Chillicothe gained possession and top free-throw shooter Keithley was fouled with 16 seconds to go. When she drained both attempts, the best Trenton could hope for was overtime via a trey, a turnover, and another trey.
Instead, it missed a shot, Chillicothe rebounded, and Trenton bowed to the now-inevitable, letting the clock run out.
Statistically, in addition to Hicks’ 15 points – she also led the team’s rebounding with five, unofficially, Chillicothe had 12 points from Keithley.
Although, after making five of six free throws in the first 24 minutes, CHS unusually missed the front end of all three 1-and-1 opportunities in the first 5-plus minutes of the fourth quarter, it recovered its usual form in the last two minutes to sink seven of eight and cement its victory. For the game, the Lady Hornets went 12 of 17.
Trenton’s scoring almost exclusively was done by Moore, despite the game-long defensive attention Chillicothe paid her. She hit a pair of trifectas, seven deuces, and made five of seven free throws to generate 25 of her team’s 31 points. No other Lady Bulldog had more than two.
“She’s got really long arms and great hands and they just throw it to an area and she goes and gets it,” Smith assessed Moore’s capacity for producing even under intense defensive attention.
“She’s a good player, but I think I’ve got some pretty good players, too.”
Aside from the 7-points difference at the foul line the late-game circumstances led to, the game’s statistics offered little to separate the new district champ from the old. Chillicothe having four fewer turnovers (13-9) was a help.
After Chillicothe’s Hornets never trailed and led for all except 3:02 of their game’s first 31:20, the deciding basket of the boys’ championship game came off a simple baseline in-bounds play after Chillicothe had a rebound off a missed RHS free throw slip through its fingers and out of bounds with just over 40 seconds remaining.
The quick Marquez threw the ball in from the offensive left of the basket to beyond the top of the key. While the ball was in flight there, he raced unnoticed to a wide-open right wing, where he took a return pass and sank the Spartans’ third trey of the last 2:10 – a 9-0 stretch that pulled victory out of the fire.
“They made enough shots at the end that they got (the win),” Cool complimented the Spartans.
The Hornets had more than enough time to regain the lead, but, after a timeout was called by head coach Tim Cool just as a 2-on-1 situation involving senior standouts C.J. Pfaff and Westley Brandsgaard developed with about 25 seconds left, a low post shot attempt by Brandsgaard was blocked by 6’6” freshman Jack Gogue with 13 seconds to go and recovered by Richmond in a scramble.
Calling time out with 11 seconds to play before Chillicothe could try to force a held ball or turnover, Richmond successfully in-bounded the ball from deep in the backcourt to Marquez racing to the forecourt. Despite Marquez quizzically firing and missing two 3-points shots, his teammates rebounded both and CHS never got the ball back. As the final second or two following the second RHS offensive rebound vanished, with them went the Chillicothe boys’ hopes of ending a now-15-years drought since the Hornets’ last state appearance.
“I thought our guys played really well. Played with a lot of heart,” the CHS coach stated.
The CHS boys (21-5) now are 0-5 in district finals during Cool’s 9-years tenure.
Statistically, in the boys’ game, Pfaff’s 26 points far and away led all scorers. Brandsgaard added 10, but only three after halftime, and junior Hayden Simmer nine, including producing the Hornets’ first seven of the game on a pair of treys and a free throw in the first 3:43.
Marquez’s game-winner was his fifth triple of the night and left him with 17 points, but the big story was fellow guard Layne Cavanah’s 16 tallies, including three triples.
The last two of those capped a crucial 8-0 Richmond outburst in only 64 seconds right after Chillicothe’s 6-consecutive points had created a 39-25 spread with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
Fouls and related free throws played a huge role in the game.
Both of Richmond’s inside starters – Gogue and 6’3” Keyshawn Elliott – went to the bench with three fouls in the middle of the second quarter. Chillicothe exploited their absences for short-range buckets four times in the next three minutes to turn a 3-points lead into a 31-22 halftime lead.
However, when both returned in the second half, Chillicothe did not aggressively attack them and force them to either concede inside shots or risk fouls. Elliott was never ticketed again and, Gogue sat only a short time after getting his fourth with 5:17 left in the game. His still being in the game at the end allowed him to block CHS’ final shot attempt.
“We tried to get it in there some,” Cool responded to a C-T query about that strategic aspect. “They did a good job of guarding us.”
Not only did the Hornets not exploit the Spartans duo’s precarious foul situation, but they also uncharacteristically missed three of their last seven free throws while working to preserve their lead in the final period.
“I’m a little stunned that it’s over,” reiterated the CHS coach, ths ninth season of his quite-successful tenure leading the program, unexpectedly now in the history books.
Richmond’s coming from behind to win in the fourth quarter was a repeat of the teams’ district-semifinals meeting a year before. On that occasion, Chillicothe led 28-23 going to the last period, but lost 38-35, also failing to get a shot to the rim on its final possession in the last 20 seconds.