Another struggling start cuts short basketball Hornets’ tourney stay

Thursday loss to Smithville at Savannah prevents third outing in event

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
  • Chillicothe's record dips to 1-2 with second-consecutive loss
  • Next game for Hornets will be at home Friday, Dec. 11, against Trenton

SAVANNAH — One thing is clear from the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets’ first three games of the 2020-21 season: They fare far better with a great start than a very bad one. Yet to be discerned is how they’ll do in games not already heavily tilted one way or the other by the end of the first period.

Following a 30-points win at Hamilton in their season opener – a contest in which they netted the first 15 points, the Hornets have lost by 17 to Kearney in a Savannah Invitational Tournament game they trailed 19-8 after a quarter and then 54-39 to Smithville Thursday in an outing which saw Chillicothe surrender 18 of the contest’s first 20 points within the first six minutes.

While the outcomes have left the Hornets (1-2) without a third chance to play in this week’s tourney, due to only seven of the planned eight schools competing (Maryville had to drop out because about half or more of its roster still is playing football), they have demonstrated a willingness to battle, even when facing an uphill fight.

After being seemingly buried by Smithville and the four early treys of Rex Schramm in Thursday’s consolation semifinal, the Hornets unleashed an impressive 16-5 surge of their own to trail only 23-18 at halftime.

When senior guard Hayden Simmer hit back-to-back, basket-attacking short-range shots in transition early in the third period, Chillicothe had reduced the once 16-points game into a 1-possession affair. A swap of buckets – Simmer again providing CHS’ with a 10-feet pull-up jumper from the right baseline on the press break – kept the Smithville lead at a shaky three – 27-24 – when the game hit its moment of critical mass.

About 2-3 minutes into the third quarter, with his team’s lead in jeopardy and himself not having tallied since his fourth triple in his first six tries found the range back in the opening stanza, Schramm decided to launch again from outside the arc, just to the right of the key.

As he did so, the lanky, 6’2” Simmer, who’d been flawless in shutting Schramm since being shifted to the defensive assignment on him late in the first frame, but shuffled forward, right arm raised to try to disrupt the Warrior’s view of the basket. As the ball sailed toward the basket and Simmer pivoted his body to turn to see the shot find its mark, the Hornet’s momentum left his right leg and hip slightly under Schramm’s descending body.

Smartly.the SHS player recoiled from the slight contact with Simmer’s body, drawing a whistle which not only gave him a chance to complete a 4-points play – which he did, but which also saddled Simmer with his fourth foul.

With the CHS senior who had the hot hand on offense forced to the bench for the rest of that quarter and the first several of the fourth, the contest turned abruptly Smithville’s way.

Beginning with Schramm’s 4-points play and aided by a return to Chillicothe’s distress against the press, the Warriors tallied 13 of next 16 points to regain a double-digits lead and they kept it there the final nine minutes, eventually leading by as many as 18.

Chillicothe’s impressive stretch of play from late in the first period through the first few minutes of the third coincided with it finally overcoming its error-laden attempts to navigate SHS’ 2-2-1 three-quarters-court press.

Once the Hornets, after a full-fledged lineup swap for the last couple of minutes of the opening stanza, stopped turning the ball over, they produced effectively in their half-court offense, stymied Smithville with their half-court defense, and generated some transition baskets off their press-break.

Still trailing 23-9 past the mid-point of the second quarter, Chillicothe went on a 9-0 run to end the first half and make a close game of it.

In quick succession, Mason Baxter and Griff Bonderer swapped shooting and setup roles on CHS triples to get the gap down to single figures. With about 1½ minutes to go in the half, Bonderer sank two free throws and, after a sloppy last minute by both sides, Baxter drew a foul after a steal deep in the SHS backcourt and, with about five seconds left in the half, made one of two free throws to surprisingly leave the halftime score at 23-18, Warriors.

Not only had the Hornets cut deeply into the big Smithville lead, but they’d missed chances to be even closer, missing six of 14 first-half foul shots – two of them on the front end of bonus chances.

When Simmer displayed the hot hand early in the second half to keep Chillicothe’s comeback churning, there was a clear sense that they had a definite path to a stirring comeback triumph and a berth in Saturday’s consolation game, but the one play involving Simmer and Schramm u-turned the contest’s momentum for keeps.

Statistically Thursday, Simmer’s career-high 17 points led all scorers, but no other Hornet had more than Bonderer’s eight. Unofficially, Wyatt Brandsgaard pulled down a team-high eight rebounds. On the down side, CHS unofficially turned the ball over at least 21 times, quite a few of those resulting directly in Smithville points.

The Warriors (1-1) were led by Schramm’s 16 points, all coming via treys (including the critical 3-plus-1). Supplying an additional 14 was Ryker Edwards.

As a result of not having a seventh-place game opportunity at Savannah, Chillicothe’s boys will be idle from game play for at least a week. They’re slated to have their home opener next Friday (Dec. 11) against Trenton as part of a girls/boys doubleheader.

As noted previously, the Hornets also were confronted with a big deficit to try to make up early in their 61-44 opening-round tournament loss Tuesday.

Kearney spotted CHS the first two points, then strung together 18 of its own to take command.

Although not as dramatically as against Smithville, Chillicothe did work its way back to the fringes of contention against KHS’ Bulldogs.

The Hornets tried to counter Kearney’s early dominance with consecutive treys from sophomores Brandsgaard and Bonderer to briefly get within five later in the first period, but the Bulldogs reestablished a twin-figures lead about 45 seconds before the end of the opening frame and the margin never was single digits again.

The margin jockeyed between about 12 and 15 points for the rest of the second and third quarters, but when Brandsgaard, who netted a team-high 20 points in only his third varsity start, converted classmate Cayden Potter’s pass into a short-range basket early in the fourth, the Hornets were down only 45-35.

However, KHS 6-foot guard Brennan Watkins, already a NCAA Division I basketball signee, squelched any reasonable hope of a successful CHS rally by burying his third trey of the day in transition and the spread remained at least 13 points the rest of the way before matching the game’s widest at the final horn.

Statistically Tuesday, Watkins’ 35 points for Kearney led all scorers. Bonderer joined fellow sophomore Brandsgaard in the double-figures ranks with 10 points.