Benton player’s only basket beats Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Lady Hornets in final seconds

Alyssa White’s lay-in at :03 thwarts CHS, ends its shared MEC reign

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

With, realistically, no wiggle room for their hopes of repeating as, at least, co-champions of the Midland Empire Conference, the 2020-21 Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets had those hopes dashed Thursday (Feb. 4) just when it seemed like they’d grittily preserved them.

Having trailed on their home hardwoods virtually non-stop since the last 2-1/2 minutes of the first quarter, the CHS girls inched ahead of visiting St. Joseph: Benton 44-43 with 28 seconds remaining in regulation time when freshman Jolie Bonderer sank the first of two free-throw attempts. Bonderer was at the line following a very borderline call that was the fifth foul on one of BHS’ top scorers, Jaida Cox, who exited with 11 points.

However, after Bonderer – four for five in the game at that juncture and the team’s second-best free-throw shooter on the season at about 70% – missed the back half of the “double bonus.” Benton’s lanky Kelsey Johnson barely maintained her balance as she tightroped the baseline to chase down the loose-ball rebound and, without taking a timeout as many coaches do in such a situation, the Lady Cardinals (8-7, 2-1 conf.) moved unimpeded into their offense.

Not finding a good look for the first 15-plus seconds, still no timeout was called. With under 10 seconds remaining, a long pass momentarily looked to be headed ripe for a deflection or steal reached its target and the BHS player wheeled from beyond the right wing toward the key area. As she entered the key with a defender in front of her and another on her hip, she spied smallish guard Alyssa White largely unguarded at the left block of the lane and fired a pass toward her.

With the taller defender due to be tracking White having drifted away and reacting too late in trying to deflect or intercept the pass, rather than positioning herself between the player and the basket and forcing a tough shot over her, she was left out of position. That left White to simply catching the pass and step forward unguarded to kiss a bank shot off the glass and in from a couple of feet away with three seconds left.

Although Chillicothe coach Darren Smith quickly called timeout with 2.8 seconds on the clock, the Lady Hornets’ in-bounds pass from the backcourt baseline toward an oncoming target in the mid-court circle – perhaps with the intent of, when caught, being quickly followed by the team’s last timeout – was rather easily intercepted and time ran out.

“It just came down to one possession and, that possession, we just didn’t get a ‘stop’ on it,” reflected Smith. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”

Although Benton had to score a last-seconds basket to win, Chillicothe (14-4, 1-2 conf.) used a lot of physical and mental energy trying to overcome as much as a 7-points deficit against the always-sticky Lady Cardinals defense.

That BHS lead came into existence because, with very few of their 3-points shots going in and the visitors’ “help” defense negating open shots on drives, Chillicothe was held to two field goals – a Brooke Horton right-side lay-in and Selby Miller trey – in the final 12-1/2 minutes of the opening half. That allowed Benton to take a 19-12 advantage to the locker room.

“Some nights, the ball just doesn’t go in from that distance,” Smith said of the errant trey tries. “I felt like the shots we took were good shots. I didn’t think that we had that many what I would call ‘ill-advised shots.’”

Its basic offensive approach unsuccessful in the first half, Smith deployed Chillicothe in a different one to begin the second, locating all four players aside from the point guard across the floor about 15 feet from the baseline.

This nullified some of the defensive layering Benton had been able to use to defend against drives and prompted more consistent scoring which boosted Chillicothe’s rhythm and confidence and, after a few minutes, led to it whittling away at the Benton lead.

Over the final 4:40 of the third quarter, CHS used drives against the more-spread defense to force it to scramble more, allowing for some cleaner perimeter looks. A Horton three-points play, treys by Jessica Reeter and Essie Hicks, and a pair of 2-free-throws possessions by those two over a 2-1/2 minutes span pushed the Lady Hornets into a 30-29 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter.

However, another dry spell – this one about 2:20 – let Benton reclaim the advantage, which reached five with just under three minutes to go.

Its back to the wall, Chillicothe responded with a press-enabled 8-2 surge which once again left it with the thinnest of leads.

A Bonderer free throw and Lucy Reeter’s stop-and-go drive from the right wing to the baseline for a lay-up cut the gap to two. A pair of Benton foul shots were offset by a J. Reeter driving score with still 1:46 left. Another couple of BHS miscues against the press Chillicothe didn’t utilize until the late going set up a possession on which Hicks’ two free throws tied it and then the possession which, with CHS trying to run the clock down to about 10 seconds before taking a timeout and, in a tie game, hoping to sink its own game-winner.

However, after killing more than a minute with perimeter ball possession, the foul which easily could have been called a held ball – although the Lady Hornets would have been due to retain possession on the alternating-possession procedure – resulted in only a single point being scored, setting the stage for White’s unlikely heroine’s role.

“I’m proud of my kids. They battled and they fought all night long,” praised Smith. “The ball didn’t go in the hole like we would have liked to have seen, … but we were in a position to win the game in the last 15 seconds of it and that’s all you can ask, is to have that opportunity.”

Statistically, Johnson’s 14 points for Benton led all scorers, aided by Cox’s 11. In addition to Horton’s 13, Hicks chipped in 11. Entering with a combined scoring average of nearly 33 points, Hicks, J. Reeter, and Bonderer – underclasswomen all on a roster which has Horton as its only senior – managed only 23 against Benton.

Horton, who scored both close in and also twice on her effective mid-range jumper, not only led the hosts’ scoring, but also its rebounding with nine, unofficially. J. Reeter, while having trouble getting her shots from the field to fall, did earn a game-high six assists by C-T tracking.

“I thought (the offense) inside early with Brooke was good. I thought she played a heck of a game,” Smith saluted. “She was really tough tonight.”

After having only four turnovers through three quarters, Benton wilted in the face of Chillicothe’s late full-court press, committing a whopping nine giveaways in the last eight minutes. That undoubtedly left it thankful it faced no backcourt defensive pressure following Bonderer’s second free throw.

Next on the Lady Hornets’ docket, weather and COVID-19 permitting, is a Tuesday rematch with MEC leader Maryville on the road. Maryville pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat CHS by 18 in last week’s Cameron Invitational Tournament championship game.