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Thursday Split Puts Chillicothe High Basketball Lady Hornets in Title Play at Lawson

Beat Hamilton by 28 in semifinal while Hornets were falling to Gallatin by 10. North Platte will be CHS girls' championship-game opponent

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Having made a steal at midcourt, junior reserve Sophia Luetticke of the Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets lifts off to hit a fourth-quarter layup which gave CHS a 30-points lead over Hamilton: Penney in the championship semifinals of the Lawson Invitational Tournament Thursday. Top seed Chillicothe won 50-22 and will meet third-seeded North Platte for the tourney title today at 2 p.m.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

LAWSON, Mo. – Long stretches of dominance marked both of Thursday night’s overlapping championship-semifinal games for the Chillicothe High School basketball teams. Because the Lady Hornets hogged them in their contest, they’ll be playing North Platte for the Lawson Invitational Tournament title Saturday afternoon (Jan. 16) at 2:30 p.m., while the Hornets were left to battle West Platte for third last night (visit www.chillicothenews.com/sports for information on Friday’s boys’ game).

CHS’ top-seeded Lady Hornets were a bit cold on offense the first few minutes of their rematch with Hamilton: Penney, leading only 4-0 midway through the opening stanza. Once they got the kinks out, the top-seeded Chillicothe girls motored on to a 50-22 victory which put them in the championship contest.

Before their female counterparts put the finishing touches on the decision over Hamilton, Chillicothe’s second-seeded Hornets (6-3) succumbed to 9-1 No. 3 seed Gallatin, 58-48. That first loss in their last six games relegated the CHS boys to pursuing third place Friday.

The state-ranked (in Class 4) Chillicothe girls (9-1) overwhelmed Hamilton’s Lady Hornets (5-6) with defense in the odd-numbered quarters to set up today’s clash with North Platte, a 50-48 come-from-behind winner over Lawson Thursday. Surrendering only two first-quarter points and one in the third, CHS coasted to win No. 8 in a row.

On the boys’ side, West Platte challenged top seed Richmond for more than three quarters before fading to a 70-54 defeat that subsequently made the Bluejays the Chillicothe boys’ opponent in Friday’s scheduled 7 p.m. contest.

Looking ahead to Saturday’s championship matchup, Darren Smith, CHS girls’ head coach, commented in a post-game interview, “We’re going to have to take care of the ball (against North Platte). They do a lot of pressing in the full court and then they’ve got a lot of half-court traps out of a 1-3-1. They’ll trap out of a 1-2-2. Even saw a little bit of 2-3 where they were doing some stuff.

“What we’ve got to really focus on is taking care of the basketball and then attacking whenever we beat the trap. It doesn’t necessarily have to be (through) the middle; it can be up the alleys before you get to the side. We’ve just got to make sure we do not continue to hand off (the ball),” allowing a double-team.”

Against Hamilton – a 48-24 victim of theirs back in the pre-Thanksgiving season opener – Thursday, Chillicothe’s girls were decent on the offensive end, but really good on defense.

“I thought we did a lot of good things on the defensive end,” confirmed Smith.

That was undeniable in the first and third frames, when Hamilton totaled only three tallies.

“That second quarter, they had 10, so we wanted to back that back off and we did a fantastic job of that,” praised the Chillicothe girls’ coach. “And, with that, we rebounded the basketball better and gave them only one shot (per possession).”

The comfortable margin by which Chillicothe not surprisingly led most of the second half gave the winners a chance to tinker some with their offensive approach, Smith noted.

“We were able to work on two or three of our zone offenses,” he chatted. “We’re seeing more and more zones all the time. That’s kind of the trend right now.”

Statistically, for a team which won by nearly 30 points and totaled 50 points, the CHS Lady Hornets’ scoring chart lacked any double-digits individuals. Sharing the team lead with eight apiece were guards Selby Miller off the bench and unrelated starters Lucy and Jessica Reeter. It was the first time in her varsity career that defensive whiz Miller had led Chillicothe in scoring. She’s the fifth team member to be top scorer in the season’s first 10 games.

The contest’s leading points producer was Hamilton guard Brighton Swindler with 11.

The Chillicothe-Gallatin boys’ game, played in the Lawson High gym and begun about a half-hour before the clash of Lady Hornets in the nearby Barker Center, played out like a double-deck, 2-handed card game of pinochle – everyone had multiple runs.

It might have happened before to a Chillicothe boys’ team – or any basketball team, but, if so, not often that it had a whopping string of 21 consecutive points and yet lost.

Gallatin, led by a Bird who gave a pretty decent scoring imitation of Larry, peeled off the game’s first seven points in three possessions and less than 1:40. Smooth, but explosive, sophomore wing forward Isaac Bird provided the first two and last three, sinking about a 23-footer from right in front of the Chillicothe bench.

Instead of being cowed or shocked, the Hornets, after a timeout, delivered a mighty reply at both ends of the floor.

Toughening their defense, including making several steals or forcing other giveaways by Gallatin, and dominating the defensive backboard, they didn’t just match GHS’ early salvo, they tripled it while blanking the Bulldogs the rest of the opening frame.

The long, long Chillicothe run began modestly with a Wyatt Brandsgaard free throw at the 6:09 mark. Senior guard Mason Baxter’s left baseline pull-up jumper from 13 feet a minute later gave the Hornets their first field goal.

Then, over exactly 2-1/2 minutes, Chillicothe made it rain points.

Having a long rebound bounce to him as he stood alone just at the top of the key, Griff Bonderer canned a trey. After the defense held again, he spotted up on the left side and converted a Brandsgaard feed into a second-straight trifecta. Down 7-0 not that long before, Chillicothe now was up 9-7 – and far from finished.

Following his steal at midcourt, sophomore Wyatt Brandsgaard of the 2020-21 Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets gets to the basket ahead of two Gallatin Bulldogs for a layup which gave CHS 11 consecutive points and an 11-7 first-quarter lead in their championship-semifinal game of the Lawson Invitational Tournament Thursday. The Hornets, who fell behind 7-0, would go on to score the last 21 points of the opening quarter, but Gallatin tallied 28 of the next 35 points and eventually snapped the second-seeded Hornets’ 5-games winning streak, 58-45.

As GHS brought the ball upcourt after that second Bonderer triple, Brandsgaard deflected a pass, tracked it down, and took it in for a layup. Next possession, Hayden Simmer made one of two free throws and, a half-minute later, senior reserve guard Eli Cross triggered and hit from outside the arc on the right wing for a 15-7 lead.

Another 30 ticks after that, Brandsgaard hit a 10-feet shot from left of the paint, prompting a second Gallatin timeout.

When play resumed, the daze Chillicothe’s blitz had put Gallatin in temporarily manifested itself in the form of miscommunication on which Bulldogs were supposed to be on the court. Six seconds elapsed before – possibly prompted by Chillicothe fans or the team bench – a nearby official did a quick head count and found six red-clad Gallatin players involved in the action.

The official’s whistle tweeted for a team technical foul, an infraction Bonderer calmly converted into two more points with two charity tosses.

Given possession after the “T,” Chillicothe kept pouring it on as freshman center James Mathew finished on the left side on a pick-and-roll play with Cross. The lay-in by the ninth grader moved the scoreboard to 21-7, Hornets, with still 1:40 to play in the opening period.

Declared CHS head coach Tim Cool, “We got ‘punched in the mouth’ pretty good and I really was very proud of how we responded to that.”

Somehow, neither side scored the rest of the stanza, a development which proved ominous for the Hornets.

When Gallatin hit a shot in the lane from about seven feet a minute into the second period, it flipped the scoring switch back over the Bulldogs’ side, although not quite as exclusively.

Still, a subsequent trey and deuce made it seven GHS points in a row again and halved the Hornets’ 14-points lead at quarter’s start.

A Bonderer driving deuce out of the press break halted the Gallatin run, but not its flow and momentum. By the time Chillicothe scored again more than 4-1/2 minutes after the Bonderer drive, the foe had netted 10 unanswered points and re-taken the lead at 24-23. Bird scored seven in a row during the run, beginning with another long-range missile – this one from about 25 feet away – right in front of a seated Cool.

“They’ve got a kid who can just score from anywhere on the floor,” the impressed Chillicothe coach lauded. “He’s a tough matchup.”

With Gallatin on a 20-4 push in the second stanza as the last minute of the half began to tick off, Baxter hit a driving shot in transition to reclaim the lead for the Hornets. A Gallatin triple gave it a 2-points advantage, only to have that erased when Simmer did the same for the Hornets from the left side 20 seconds before the halftime horn.

“I knew this was going to be a game where there were going to be some ‘runs’ involved and it was just a matter of which team could stop the other team’s run the quickest,” Cool shared during a post-game broadcast interview.

The squads traded baskets to begin the second half, but then Gallatin uncorked one more run that Chillicothe, while it came close, never fully recovered from.

Over a span of 4:05, the Bulldogs posted 14 points to CHS’ two, creating an 11-points cushion which would prove to be its largest of the evening.

“We got really passive offensively,” the Hornets coach candidly assessed.

“We want to make the defense work when they’re set, but we can’t be passive. We’ve got to be looking to be creative and be in ‘attack’ mode. We got away from that in the second half. There was a long stretch there where we didn’t get much offensively.”

Down by double digits with under 2-1/2 minutes left in the third period, the Hornets strung together another skein of points, capped in dramatic fashion.

Cayden Potter’s deuce and Baxter’s coast-to-coast drive and layup after snaring a long rebound made it a 7-points game. A CHS defensive stop gave it the ball with a chance to gain more ground on a final shot in the period. It did so, but in a strange way.

While trying to run the clock down, the Hornets turned it over with under 20 seconds remaining, only to force Gallatin into a turnover, too. Then, as Chillicothe was pushed farther and farther away from the rim as the last seconds ticked down, the ball was knocked out of bounds with just over a second on the third-quarter clock.

Baxter flipped it in to Bonderer about five feet into the backcourt and Gallatin gave him space to be sure not to foul him. The CHS sophomore used that room to launch a 2-handed shot which, perhaps predictably for this night, found “nothing but net” as the buzzer blared. The trey put the Hornets within 43-39 with the opening possession of the fourth quarter awaiting.

They didn’t convert when play resumed and never again had possession with a chance to get within three or fewer points.

In a last, determined gasp, the Hornets again narrowed the margin to four on a Bonderer three-points play with 2:34 left, the next five points and nine of the last 12 went to the Bulldogs, allowing them to win by 10.

Statistically, GHS’ approximately 6’2” Bird, who had scored 21 and 22 points in his team’s two preceding games, topped that with a highly-impressive 28-points showing which saw him hit a very high percentage of his shots from the floor and six of seven free throws.

Also in twin figures for the Bulldogs was another GHS sophomore, Payton Feiden, with 13. Gallatin started three sophomores, a junior, and a senior, while the Hornets began with a freshman, two sophomores, and two seniors.

Bonderer’s 18 points paced the Hornets and Baxter finished with a season-high 11. It was only the second time in the CHS boys’ last seven outings that its top scorer hadn’t registered a new career high in points.

Aside from its scorching 5-minutes stretch in the opening quarter, Chillicothe’s shooting was not good. Even with that highly-successful span which gave it the big lead, CHS made only 38% of its field goal attempts and only six of 11 free throws. It shot only 43 percent from 2-points distance.

In addition to his 11 points, Baxter led the team’s passing with four assists, while making two steals and snagging a second-most five rebounds.

Team-wise, rebounding, assists and turnover numbers were virtually equal.