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Basketball Hornets rebound to claim OT home win

Down 12 three times in first half, CHS boys edge LeBlond 65-63 Thursday

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets senior guard Hayden Simmer (15) is accidentally fouled as he rips down a defensive rebounds with three seconds left in overtime in Thursday's home game against St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond. Simmer, whose free throw on a technical foul with 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter had sent the game to OT, sank both free throws on this occasion, completing a career-best 20-points night and handing CHS a 65-63 comeback victory over Class 2 state-ranked Bishop LeBlond.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

When St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond used a sizzling hot hand to seize a 9-2 lead inside the game’s first two minutes, the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets needed to rebound to avoid getting run off their home floor in the teams’ 2020-21 Midland Empire Conference openers.

They did – literally and figuratively.

Although they eventually trailed by 12 points three separate times in the first 12 minutes, once BLHS’ Golden Eagles cooled off a bit from the field, the Hornets rode an eventual 39-21 advantage in rebounds to a comeback which culminated with two Hayden Simmer free throws – fittingly after his defensive board – with three seconds left in overtime that were the difference in a 65-63 triumph.

“What a great win,” Tim Cool, Chillicothe head coach, commented in a post-game broadcast interview.

Of the deciding play, he noted, “Hayden Simmer just played his heart out tonight. He landed hard down there, he was so aggressive, going to get that rebound. Then to make the free throws – that was just huge.”

The victory – the 5-2 Hornets’ fourth-straight – propels CHS’ boys into next week’s Lawson Invitational Tournament. They are the No. 2 seed there behind Richmond and will open with a Tuesday 7:30 p.m. contest against Hamilton: Penney. Chillicothe dominated Hamilton 58-28 just before Thanksgiving.

“That’s going to be a completely-different game,” warned Cool, “because when we played them (in the season opener), they had just come out of football and they had some injuries. We’ll have to really be ready.”

Thursday’s contest in Chillicothe saw Bishop LeBlond, ranked in the Missouri High School Basketball Coaches Association’s Class 2 Top 10, follow its fast start with a 2-minutes string of 10-consecutive points late in the opening period and at the start of the second. That gave the Chris Guldan-led Golden Eagles (7-5) a 23-11 advantage, a spread they equaled at 26-14 and 29-17 over the next few minutes.

However, Chillicothe’s offensive approach of attacking the basket and the backboards – in contrast to BLHS’ perimeter- and 3-points-shooting-focused offense – led to CHS drawing enough fouls to get into the bonus situation by mid-second-stanza. That helped it cut into the Bishop LeBlond lead in the 4-1/2 minutes of the first half, which ended with the Hornets within 31-27.

Although the Hornets didn’t fully capitalize on their foul-line chances – they were six of nine at the line in the second quarter and 15 of 22 in regulation time, they did end the night a very respectable 19 of 28, including Simmer’s pair of game-winners.

Even though foul-shackled Griff Bonderer drilled a quick trey to begin the second half and make it a 1-point game, Bishop LeBlond re-inflated its lead to five, then six, and then seven later in the third frame. Two minutes into the fourth, it was in front 50-43, but Chillicothe – this time reaching the 1-and-1 a minute later – drew even for the first time since the contest’s first minute with about 2:40 left in regulation time.

Two Simmer foul shots, his 14-feet pull-up jumper from left of the paint, and Wyatt Brandsgaard’s spinning left low post move squared the score at 52-52 with 2:42 on the clock.

Although the Golden Eagles countered with Guldan’s driving deuce, he didn’t convert his “and-1” chance and CHS soon tied things again as Bonderer’s slashing, cross-lane drive from the left wing saw him finish with a reverse layup he spun perfectly off the window from the right side of the rim.

When the Hornets got a defensive stop, they spent about 30-40 seconds looking for a go-ahead shot before taking timeout. On the in-bounds play from the baseline to the offensive right of the basket, Bonderer slyly slipped a bounce pass in to cool-demeanored freshman center James Mathew, who was fouled as he tried to shoot.

Playing the entire game without bench rest, due to the current, non-COVID-19, health non-availability of Cayden Potter, Mathew strode to the charity line and swished his first shot for CHS’ first lead of the game. His second try drew iron a couple of times, but hung on the rim and dropped through the net with 57 ticks on the clock.

The Chillicothe defense then forced Bishop LeBlond to try and miss two long shots, but, in an ironic twist to the game-long undercurrent, the Hornets couldn’t collect the long rebounds. Finally, all alone on the right wing outside the 3-points line, Guldan let fly with a shot which landed on the rim nearest him, bounced into the air, and dropped through the net with 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The third-chance trey had restored the visitors to the lead, but only very briefly.

As Chillicothe collected the ball and threw it in, Golden Eagles head coach Mitch Girres apparently had sought to catch the officials’ attention to call timeout, but without success. When CHS put the ball in play, removing the option of BLHS getting a timeout, an apparent too-vociferous complaint by the coach to the official now only feet away from him prompted the whistling of a technical foul.

Simmer hit the first of the two tries for the bench “T,” tying the game with 20 seconds to go, but missed the second. On the ensuing possession, the Hornets did not create a good shot, ending up with Brandsgaard firing up a rushed shot from 21 feet just ahead of the buzzer that missed by a good margin. With the scoreboard showing 57 points for each side, the game headed to overtime.

In the extra four minutes, Bonderer stuck back a Simmer short-range miss and they reversed roles while sandwiching a Jake Korell triple, to leave the hosts in front by one halfway through.

Neither side scored in the next 80 seconds before Brandsgaard was fouled while shooting. The sophomore forward, who doubled-doubled with 15 points and 10 rebounds, calmly sank both attempts for a 3-points lead with 39 seconds on the clock.

Focusing its defense on trying to deny an open 3-pointer, Chillicothe saw Isaac Furgeson attack the basket on a drive instead. When he got his shot over the much-taller Mathew and in while absorbing some contact, Furgeson completed a score-knotting three-points play with 24.5 seconds to go.

Chillicothe tried to work for a final shot, but was called for an offensive foul with 10 seconds left, handing the Golden Eagles a chance to win with, potentially, any kind of score. However, after traveling the length of the floor, a long shot from the left baseline missed and was grabbed by a leaping Simmer for his seventh carom snag of the night.

As the senior Hornet was landing, a BLHS player tracking the ball’s flight and trying to chase it down had his path intersect Simmer’s, accidentally knocking the Chillicothean to the court. The clear foul sent the Hornet to the other end of the court with the clock stopped and, once there, he got a good bounce on his first attempt to break the tie. A perfect second try doubled the Chillicothe lead.

Barely getting the ball in-bounds before a 5-seconds violation, Bishop LeBlond managed to find its top player, Guldan, but about 70 feet away from his team’s bucket.  Already owning three treys and 25 points, after a quick dribble or two, he heaved a long shot which drew glass, but angled past the rim no good as the buzzer ended the game as a CHS win.

Statistically, with his two game-winning free throws, Simmer established a new career-high in scoring with his team-topping 19th and 20th points. He scored 11 of those in the fourth quarter or overtime, including 5-of-6 free-throw marksmanship. His critical rebound which set up the winning foul shots was the 6’2” guard’s seventh of the night.

Despite missing about 12 minutes in the first half with foul trouble, Bonderer still managed to put in 16 points – 12 after intermission.

With his double-double, Brandsgaard made it three Hornets in twin figures in scoring and two with double-digits rebounds. Mathew, who scored seven points, led the CHS board work with 12 and also blocked three shots.

Although he scored a game-best 25 points on other attempts, this overtime layup attempt by St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond guard Chris Guldan is rejected by Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets freshman center James Mathew Thursday night. The defensive play by the frosh, who cleared away a game-high 12 rebounds and scored seven points, as well, helped CHS successfully complete its comeback victory, 65-63, in its Midland Empire Conference opener for 2020-21.

Among the 39 total caroms caught – unofficially, Bishop LeBlond had only 21, Chillicothe made 10 of those on the offensive end, leading to eight second-chance tallies. The visitors had only three points off one of their unofficial seven offensive boards.

“That’s so big for us, the defensive rebounding; that is just huge for us to try to get stops,” Cool emphasized. “… (Mathew has) turned into a real good 2-hands rebounder. In traffic, he’s going to go up strong and rebound the ball with two hands.”

Guldan, praised by Cool as “an elite player,” was joined in double-figures scoring by Korell’s and Hayden Cross’ 12 points apiece and Furgeson’s 11. The Golden Eagles sank eight treys to CHS’ two.

Speaking of a Cross, Cool made sure to note that Chillicothe’s – senior guard Eli – was a key factor, too.

“When he came into the game (in the first quarter when Bonderer picked up his second foul in the first three minutes), our energy level (rose),” the coach praised. “… He’s diving for loose balls and getting rebounds. He made a huge difference for us in the first half.”

E. Cross also provided five second-stanza points, capped by a sharp drive for a layup from the right wing that he turned into a three-points play in the middle of an 8-0 CHS run in the final 4:20 of the first half.

“We had a bunch of guys make winning plays throughout the game,” Cool lauded.

The OT victory was the Hornets’ first “free basketball” conquest since a December 2016 win over Platte County in the Savannah Invitational Tournament.