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CHS basketball Lady Hornets in title game today

To face MEC rival Maryville at 1 after gritty comeback win

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Finding a "soft spot" in the Smithville zone defense, Junior guard Selby Miller of the Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets pops and banks in a jump shot from 13 feet with 16 seconds left in the first half of Thursday's championship quarterfinal in the Cameron Invitational Tournament. The basket drew CHS within 34-29 at intermission and, with a strong fourth quarter, the Lady Hornets rallied to win, 64-60. They'll play top-seeded Maryville for the tourney title today at about 1 p.m.

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

CAMERON — Thanks to a determined final push in the final four minutes, Chillicothe High School’s basketball Lady Hornets made sure their seventh-year head coach Darren Smith didn’t miss the “career milestone” train Thursday night at Cameron, even if on a technicality.

Totally without notice, the former Meadville High boys’ coach who took the CHS girls’ reins prior to the 2014-15 season became the all-time leader in coaching wins in the 47 seasons of the modern era of Lady Hornets hoops when he got No. 143 as this year’s team claimed the championship game of the recent Lawson Invitational Tournament.

So, while wrestling Hornets seventh-year head coach Chad Smith became that program’s all-time leader in dual-match coaching wins Thursday with Nos. 137 and 138 at Macon and Smith’s long-time friend and 10th-year Hornets head coach Tim Cool was posting the 500th victory of his outstanding career about 20 minutes earlier and 30 yards away, the Chillicothe girls’ coach – as he’ll do with every triumph during the rest of his tenure with the program – broke his own school mark with win No. 146 when the Lady Hornets closed on a 14-5 run to chase down the Smithville Lady Warriors, 64-60, in the championship semifinals of the Cameron Invitational Tournament.

With top-seeded Maryville’s preceding 54-41 conquest of stubborn Cameron, today’s 1 p.m. girls’ championship game becomes the first of at least two and potentially three clashes between the Lady Hornets (13-2) and MHS’ Lady Spoofhounds this season. They’re scheduled to meet in Midland Empire Conference play at Maryville Feb. 9 and are both in Class 4 District 16 in the postseason.

Thursday’s Chillicothe victory never looked likely until the final eight seconds.

That was when sophomore point guard Jessica Reeter sank two free throws – the first barely reaching the front iron, then bouncing to the back brace before rolling in – to make it a 2-possession game with Smithville out of timeouts.

That capped a dazzling fourth quarter for the daughter of the Lady Hornets’ single-season and career rebounds record-holder Julia (Hinkebein) Reeter and niece of CHS single-season steals record-holder Beth (Hinkebein) Heil.

Having twice been exiled to the bench by first-half foul trouble, including sitting out the last 5:26 of the half after hitting three 3-pointers in her limited time on the floor, Je. Reeter had 10 points through three quarters.

After Smithville (11-3) opened the last stanza with eight unanswered points to seize a 50-44 lead, Chillicothe’s floor leader, still at three fouls, understood it was time to throw caution to the wind.

She triggered her fourth trifecta of the game from the left wing with 5:27 remaining, reigniting the CHS attack which had been scoreless for nearly three minutes.

Although Smithville countered with a “3” of its own, a J. Reeter foul shot and two by Lucy Reeter again made it a 1-possession game. A Lady Warriors putback – two of its 10 “second-chance” points in the contest – was trumped by another J. Reeter triple, this time from the left corner off driving Jolie Bonderer’s long, cross-lane pass.

After Smithville didn’t score, J. Reeter drove strong from the left wing and hit a tough point-blank shot over a taller defender to knot the score at 55-all with 2:44 to go.

Another dry SHS possession set the stage for another J. Reeter drive, this time from the top of the key into the paint where she got a 5-footer to fall. With 2:12 remaining, Chillicothe had the lead again, this time to keep.

“I felt like, defensively, especially toward the end of the game, we buckled down and understood what we needed to do” to thwart Smithville’s attack, Smith stated in a post-game broadcast interview. “We rebounded a little better, too.”

Unofficially, the CHS girls helped cause 10 second-half SHS turnovers, while the Lady Hornets cut theirs from 10 in the opening half to two after intermission.

When the Lady Hornets called timeout after grabbing another Smithville miss and their coach instructed them to try to execute their “delay/layups” strategy, the opponent used the stoppage to shift into a full-court press. It quickly backfired.

With all 10 players on the SHS offensive end of the court, Bonderer tried to break away toward the Chillicothe basket for a long pass, but was closely trailed. However, J. Reeter found L. Reeter with a pass that a defender tried, but failed, to pick off. That gave L. Reeter, after momentarily hesitating, a chance to zip upcourt on the dribble with Bonderer and her defender awaiting.

As the defensive player finally moved to halt L. Reeter’s dribble, the CHS junior perfectly timed a bounce pass that let Bonderer sink an uncontested layup for a 59-55 lead with 1:47 to go.

Although Smithville answered with a triple, it took it over 40 seconds to do so, after which Chillicothe, up only one, ran off another half-minute before Essie Hicks was purposely fouled.

In the 1-and-1, Hicks quickly swished both tries for a 3-points lead. A Maryville turnover then led by J. Reeter being fouled with 19 seconds remaining. With her team now in the “double bonus,” she made the first of two for a 2-possessions lead.

Although Smithville quickly went up the floor and drove for a layup with 11 seconds remaining to cut the lead in half, J. Reeter’s two free throws after receiving the in-bounds pass iced the win.

“We kind of climbed on her back and rode it,” coach Smith said of the 14-points fourth-quarter show by the sophomore. “I think she was trying to make up for that first half where she got herself in foul trouble.

“… That fourth quarter came around and I think she decided there was no way she was going to let us lose. Man, she was really good on that offensive end.”

Although Chillicothe led periodically through the game, aside from a 23-17 advantage three minutes into the second quarter, most of its margins were a point or two until the last two minutes. Meanwhile, Smithville, which had defeated the Lady Hornets back in early December in the Savannah Invitational, had multiple leads of five, six, or seven points, but could never gain full separation as the Lady Hornets hung tough.

“Really pleased with the girls and their intensity. They could have given up,” the CHS coach praised, aware that the quality of their play wasn’t always what it can be.

Statistically, with her last-frame heroics, J. Reeter posted CHS’ top points total – 24 – for a game this  winter. That bested her career high of 22 set in the Lawson tourney win over North Platte.

Hicks and Bonderer joined her in double digits with 13 and 10, respectively, with Hicks sharing the assists lead with Brooke Horton with three apiece.

Smithville, which unofficially out-rebounded Chillicothe 36-21, was led by Christina Walsh’s 18 points. Two others had 10 each, but one – outside sniper Kenzie Moes – was limited to three in the second half.

In Maryville’s victory, senior 6’ All-State guard and Kansas State University signee Serena Sundell took charge after Cameron was within 26-23 at halftime. She scored 17 of her 19 points in the last two quarters and had 17 of her team’s 28 tallies.

Joining her with 19 was 5’10” sophomore forward Rylee Vierthaler, who had 17 before intermission. Emily Cassavaugh provided another 10.