Another night, another split for Chillicothe (Mo.) HS basketball squads Thursday

This time at same site, Lady Hornets use 16-0 mid-second-half run to beat Kirksville before boys lose big again

As reported to C-T
Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Lady Hornets basketball

KIRKSVILLE — Although the girls’ game was much more competitive before being claimed by the Lady Hornets, in the end, Chillicothe (Mo.) High School’s basketball teams split their games against a common opponent Thursday (Feb. 18), this time at the same site.

One night after CHS’ girls won handily at St. Joseph: Lafayette while the boys were losing decisively to LHS at home, both Chillicothe teams were at Kirksville Thursday for their final non-conference outings of the regular season.

At night’s end, the same results had been achieved, although the Lady Hornets needed one overwhelming stretch in the middle of the second half to gain their 16th victory in 20 contests this season.

Behind 25-19 at halftime and 28-24 with 2:50 remaining in the third quarter, the Lady Hornets streaked into the lead with 16 unanswered points and never were threatened by KHS’ Lady Tigers the final six minutes of a 48-39 triumph.

The succeeding boys’ contest, with CHS’ Hornets (12-8) without both head coach Tim Cool and sophomore starting forward Cayden Potter for a second-straight night, found Kirksville claiming a 20-6 lead after one period to begin a 61-38 triumph.

The games ended Chillicothe’s play for the week. Their final week of the regular season next week, including some make-up contests, will begin with Monday night rescheduled games at Savannah, Tuesday road action at Cameron, and a Thursday trip to Maryville. All three will involve girls’ and boys’ varsity doubleheaders with some having a junior-varsity contest tied in.

Next week will end with Saturday opening-round games – likely boys’ – in the Class 4 District 16 Tournament for which Chillicothe technically is the host. However, under this year’s COVID-19-influenced procedures, at least the quarterfinal- and semifinal-round games will be hosted by the higher-seeded of the teams involved.

It is possible also that the championship games will be played under the same hosting format, although the participating schools could vote tomorrow (Saturday), when the tourney’s brackets are seeded, to play both title games in Chillicothe, either on the same or separate nights, under Missouri State High School Activities Association guidelines.

As – given the last-second home loss to St. Joseph: Benton – the near-certain No. 3 seed, CHS’ Lady Hornets will host their quarterfinal game, probably against lowly Richmond. The Hornets project as the probable No. 4 seed, which would give them a chance to open district play at home, too, against Savannah.

At Kirksville Thursday, a 4:40 stretch bridging the break between the third and fourth quarters of the girls’ game was about all the visitors had to hang their hats on for the evening, but that was enough to salvage one win.

Having stumbled through the second stanza to see a 12-8 lead after one evaporate into a 25-19 halftime hole, the Lady Hornets – perhaps showing some fatigue from playing on consecutive nights after about 10 days between games and, according to head coach Darren Smith, one stretch of five days in a row without even a practice – made a quick stab at seizing the upper hand as the third quarter began.

However, after they posted the first five points of the second half to get within 25-24, they again lost their offensive mojo and, as the clock ticked under three minutes remaining in the third frame, still trailed by four.

By the time Kirksville next scored, though, Chillicothe would possess a double-digits lead.

Following a Lady Tigers free throw that made it 28-24 with 3:28 left in the third, the home team would not increase its total beyond 28 for virtually seven minutes of game time. In the interim, the Lady Hornets would spring to life and take control.

The game’s decisive stretch commenced innocently enough with Lady Hornets freshman Jolie Bonderer netting two free throws with 2:49 on the third-quarter game clock.

An Essie Hicks charity toss made it a 1-point game before, after corralling a defensive rebound in traffic, CHS point guard Jessica Reeter trailed the pack up the floor on the dribble, worked her way to the right wing while maintaining her dribble, and then using a hesitation move there to get by her defender and all the way to the basket for layup in a slow-motion coast-to-coast drive.

That deuce restored Chillicothe to the lead at 29-28 with 34 seconds left in the quarter, but the Lady Hornets weren’t through.

Kirksville worked the ball around before attempting an awkward driving shot with five seconds still remaining. It banged off the backboard right into the grasp of junior forward Ellie Barnett near the KHS free-throw line. She quickly flipped the ball about 10 feet ahead to Bonderer, who was on the move toward the CHS offensive end already.

With several dribbles, the freshman crossed midcourt and was approaching the 3-points arc when, heeding the vocal promptings of her teammates on the bench nearby, she leaped off her left foot and fired an under-control shot that banked off the glass and cleanly through the hoop as the buzzer sounded. Her trey meant a 32-28 CHS lead going to the last quarter with the Lady Hornets also set to have the opening possession of the fourth segment.

The momentum easily carried over as, fairly quickly on the ensuing possession, forward Essie Hicks of the Lady Hornets blazed past her startled defender on a dribble drive from the right wing and then used a jump stop to kiss a soft jumper off the window and in from five feet away.

Hicks then collected the carom of another Kirksville miss and, after passing the ball off to J. Reeter as traffic cleared, trailed the other players up the court. In doing so, her assigned defender figuratively fell asleep, sagging back into the lane in anticipation of Hicks eventually arriving in the vicinity.

Instead, the versatile forward simply slowed down as she neared the top of the key, accepted J. Reeter’s return pass, and, totally unguarded, nailed a trey that made it 37-28, CHS, with seven minutes remaining in the game.

As if that wasn’t enough, after Kirksville once more failed to score, the Lady Hornets – already in a “spread” offense from which they could milk the clock and/or hopefully create some prime scoring chances from short range – tacked on, even though not from close in.

After using about a half-minute while circulating the ball on the perimeter, Barnett found herself with lots of room as she accepted a pass from Bonderer in the right corner. Most effective and comfortable as an outside shooter, Barnett – with her taller defender sagged off of her by a good 5-8 feet – splashed home a 3-pointer and, 4:40 after being down by four and seemingly adrift offensively, Chillicothe’s girls had put up 16 points in a row and led 40-28 with 6:10 to go.

Although Kirksville finally ended its famine with a point-blank deuce with 4:31 remaining, Chillicothe fairly easily maintained a 3-possessions lead the rest of the way and won by nine.

“I really felt like we got tired in that second (quarter) and we reverted to try to do some things that really aren’t going to make us be successful,” Darren Smith, CHS head coach, stated in a post-game online interview. 

“Once we got past that and got back to defending, got back to looking for each other and helping each other, making some good passes, then we got along pretty good.”

Statistically for the Lady Hornets, Hicks and Bonderer provided the bulk of the attack, each scoring in every quarter as the former finished with a game-best 22 points and the latter tallying 16. Bonderer went three of four beyond the arc and five of six at the free-throw line.

Hicks also led the CHS rebounding with eight, while Bonderer paced the defense with three thefts.

Kirksville (9-9), which managed only three points in the third quarter as the contest began slipping away, was topped by Corrine Vorkink’s 11 points.

“Defensively in the third quarter, that’s where we want to be,” Smith remarked.

The boys’ contest saw Chillicothe’s offense continue its recent struggles, something with which Cool can commiserate as, he shared with the C-T, he tries to battle through notable effects of the COVID-19 he contracted and is currently quarantining for. The Hornets have failed to reach 50 points in four of their last five outings, including three in a row.

Held to six points in the opening period at Kirksville, they awoke a bit to split 30 markers with the home team in the second, but that left the host Tigers handily on top, 35-21, at halftime.

Chillicothe was not able to score even in twin figures in either of the last two stanzas as Kirksville edged farther ahead. In front 48-29 after three, it raised the final margin to 23 as the Hornets lost their fourth in a row.

Statistically, the CHS boys – still needing one victory to assure a winning season after standing 12-4 following their Feb. 1 home win over Lathrop – were paced in scoring by their two season leaders in that category. Griff Bonderer put up 11 points and Hayden Simmer 10.

Kirksville (13-3) was topped by Kenton Anderson’s 17 markers and Noah Copeland’s 16.

The Tigers shot a whopping 30 free throws, of which they made 23. KHS attempted 22 of those foul shots – to CHS’ six – in a wild first half in which it got more than half (18) of its 35 tallies from the line. Chillicothe finished six of 10 at the charity stripe.