Once more playing from behind against Tigerettes Wednesday (March 4, 2020), CHS girls get close, but never catch up n 50-40 state-tourney loss

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

MOBERLY, Mo. — The outstanding 2019-20 Chillicothe High School Lady Hornets basketball season ended Wednesday night when, for a second time, they couldn’t fully chase down Macon’s Tigerettes.
Yo-yoing from trailing by three possessions to being within a shot of being tied or ahead in each of the last three quarters, Chillicothe failed to score from the floor in the last four minutes of their Class 3 state tournament sectionals-round contest. That allowed steady-production Macon to turn a 39-36 game at the mid-point of the last stanza into a 50-40 victory in Moberly Area Community College’s Fitzsimmons-John Arena.
CHS’ defeat turned the lights out on a season which produced a final record of 20-8 and a 3-ways share of the Midland Empire Conference crown, thanks to a 6-1 league ledger.
“If you look at our season and see what we accomplished and how we went about our business,” reflected sixth-year CHS head coach Darren Smith in a post-game broadcast interview, “how we grew from day one … what a fantastic ride these young ladies took us on.”
Referencing the challenging schedule his squad faced with few exceptions, he continued, “They battled every night. Every night was a dogfight. … Twenty-one of our 28 games were decided in the fourth quarter.”
With the conclusion of this season, five Lady Hornets – multi-years starters Jordan Hibner and Hunter Keithley and reserves Montana Plattner, Josie Reeter, and Haley Kidd – ended their prep hoops careers, Hibner with sole ownership of the top lines in the CHS girls’ record book for 3-points shooting.
With a trio of 3-pointers against Macon, Hibner – already CHS’ record-holder for treys in a game (seven), season, and career – reset her season mark to 73 after making 71 a year ago.
Those 73 soared her career total (in three varsity seasons) to 186, 54 more than former career record-holder Hannah Jones had during a 4-seasons career from 2013-17.
“It’s a special group,” Smith said of this team’s 12th graders. “It’s a group that did a lot for the other 10 girls in that locker room, as far as leadership and helping them understand what it’s like to be a Lady Hornet and how to prepare. Definitely going to be missed.”
Macon (23-4), undisputed champs of the Clarence Cannon Conference, move on to face another of the MEC tri-champs, Maryville, in the state quarterfinals this afternoon at Blue Springs. Maryville downed Kansas City: St. Michael the Archangel 51-32 Wednesday.
Chillicothe had one lead Wednesday – something it never had when the Tigerettes beat it 67-52 at Macon on Dec. 17 –  when Essie Hicks followed Brooke Horton’s short jumper with a 6-feet pull-up jumper from the left side after using a pump fake to set up a drive past her defender at 5:05 of the first quarter.
That lone advantage didn’t quite last a half-minute, however.
Once the Tigerettes broke a 7-7 deadlock with Lexi Miller’s shot from just beyond the right low post 23 seconds before the first stanza concluded, they remained in front for the duration.
“We thought we could stay with them,” Smith shared afterward, expressing the confidence he had that the 15-points December loss to the Tigerettes – a game in which Chillicothe trailed 22-7 early in the second quarter – was deceptive. “We thought we could play with them. I think we proved that we could.”
After scoring first in the second quarter for an 11-7 lead Wednesday,  the Tigerettes answered Hibner’s CHS season-record-tying trey – she had a chance to turn it into a score-squaring four-points play, but the free throw missed – with eight points in a row. That left Macon holding a 19-10 margin with 3:15 to go in the opening half.
As it did in December, Chillicothe put on a pre-intermission push that tightened things.
A record-breaking 72nd trey of the season from Hibner, Jessica Reeter’s driving deuce, Hicks’ bank shot from right of the lane, and another driving score by Je. Reeter from the left side had the Lady Hornets within three 59 seconds before halftime.
Petre doubled the MHS lead with a right-wing trifecta before freshman Je. Reeter worked from the right side to near the paint to hit a runner and leave her team trailing only 25-21 at the mid-game break.
When Je. Reeter hit a trey from the top of the key at the 6:18 mark of the third stanza – giving her seven CHS points in a row and nine of the team’s last 11, the game again was had a 1-possession margin, 27-24. However, Macon tightened its defense on the freshman and blanked her the rest of the way, helping hamstring the Chillicothe attack.
“We just never got into (a consistent offensive rhythm),” Smith assessed in his post-game visit with local media. “I feel like maybe I didn’t have us as prepared for the pressure as what I needed.”
Macon’s Miller, who finished with a game-best 20 points, answered the call for some Macon scoring with a bucket from the paint and two free throws within a minute of Je. Reeter’s triple. When she was fouled with seven seconds left in the third quarter, already putting MHS into the “bonus” free-throw situation, she hit both to make it a 3-possessions game, 34-26, headng to the last frame.
Its back to the wall, battle-tested Chillicothe responded.
A driving Hunter Keithley drew a foul a half-minute into the fourth quarter and netted both charity tosses. After a defensive stop, she caught a lob pass from Brooke Horton at the left block and finished with her left hand to pare the gap to four.
A pair of Hawkins free throws were offset by Hibner’s third – and last – 3-pointer of the game at the 5:39 mark, once more draw CHS within three.
Two MHS misses at the line left Chillicothe with the ball and a chance to tie. While Keithley did score on the possession, it was only on the second of two free throws as her close-in shot that could have led to a three-points play didn’t drop.
Macon, now in the “double bonus” in a game with plentiful fouls called, made three of four free throws in a 20-seconds span, but when Hicks’ pull-up jumper from the left block sat on the back brace of the rim for a second or two before finally dropping in, Chillicothe again trailed by only three with still 4:05 to go.
“We could get within two, three, four (points),” lamented Smith, “just never could climb over that hill and get to the other side of it.
“That would have been a big thing, to see them play from behind to see how they reacted to that. We just could never get there.”
However, when it didn’t make another basket and scored a mere four points the rest of the way, Macon salted its win away.
“The flow of it never felt just exactly right for us. We’d get in a little bit of a rhythm and then – bam! – we were right back out of it,” Smith dissected the contest.
“We fouled too much in the second half and got them in the ‘double-bonus’ too quick. That wasn’t really a game plan we had; it just worked out that way.”
Without saying so directly, the CHS coach seemed to share some observers’ perception that game officials called the game – especially the second half – unnecessarily strictly, particularly out-court.
“I don’t know what we were really doing different from the first half,” he said obliquely.
The late fade by Chillicothe was much like the homestretch of the teams’ December game. Back then, Macon had a 13-points lead at the start of the fourth quarter shrivel to four with more than five minutes to go, but outscored CHS 17-6 in the remaining time. This time, the Tigerettes posted 11 of the last 15 tallies.
“It was all about (trying to get) ‘stops,’” Smith said of the challenge of playing from behind.
Following Hicks’ hoop, Macon went on a game-deciding 7-0 spurt.
Miller hit one of two free throws before Chillicothe had two possessions, trailing 40-36, and did not score. Katie Richardson’s driving layup in transition ended an 80-seconds stretch without either side scoring before, with Chillicothe coming out of a timeout with full-court defensive pressure, Macon threw a long pass from its defensive end line that Hawkins gathered in and took in for a layup that, with 2:05 to go, effectively broke Chillicothe’s back.
“Those girls gave me everything they had tonight,” Smith lauded his team’s characteristic determined effort. “We just came up a little short.”
For good measure, after CHS again drew a blank on offense, Miller took a pass inside and scored with 1:33 left to raise her team’s lead to 10, the largest of the game to that moment.
With the outcome already decided with her team up by 10 with under 25 seconds to play, Richardson hit one of two free throws to establish the contest’s widest gap, 49-38.
“Our goal was (allowing) mid-40s or below,” Smith confirmed to the C-T the coaching staff’s defensive projections, which – by and large – were well-met. “… We really had it kind of where we wanted it.”
Statistically, while its scoring was not nearly as prolific as in its December victory over Chillicothe, Macon still exhibited similar depth in its productivity.
Having had Miller, Richardson, Hawkins, and Tierra Wood all in dual digits in December, the Tigerettes had four scorers with at least eight in the rematch, again paced by sophomore Miller reaching 20. She had 23 in the prior win.
Again joining her in double figures was Hawkins with 10, while Richardson and Petre netted eight each.
“They’ve just got a lot of offensive firepower," the Chillicothe coach praised Macon "(Miller) is quite a player and she’s got some good pieces to go with her.”

Chillicothe didn’t end up with anyone beyond single digits. Je. Reeter, Keithley, and Hibner each tallied nine and Hicks had seven.
Unofficially, Macon out-rebounded Chillicothe 26-18 in the only other primary stats category in which there was a distinct separation.
While five of this year’s Lady Hornets – including 1,000-points scorer Keithley and long-range-shooting ace Hibner – won’t be back in uniform next winter, a handful who started (Hicks, Je. Reeter, Horton) or saw very extensive use throughout 2019-20 and another several who were utilized in specialized roles many times will give Smith decent talent and good depth on which to recalibrate through the summer and into next season. A couple of current freshmen with size and skill also figure to advance into depth roles.
Many of those who started or saw loads of action this season are either sophomores or freshmen.
“There are some pieces,” he agreed. “What we’ve got to do is take a little time off, get ready for summer (play), and see what’s there.”