Chillicothe HS basketball Hornets clinch winning year Monday

Lady Hornets knocked off in another CHS split

As reported to C-T

SAVANNAH — Chillicothe (Mo.) HS’ basketball Hornets accomplished a couple of “firsts” Monday night (Feb. 22, 2021) while also clinching a winning season.

The Lady Hornets, on the other hand, likely saw their slim hopes of a 20-wins season disappear.

In a Midland Empire Conference make-up doubleheader with host Savannah, the Hornets not only salvaged one victory from the evening for CHS, but assured themselves of yet another winning season – their seventh in a row – with a 53-38 triumph.

The preview of next Monday’s Class 4 District 16 Tournament first-round meeting, also at Savannah, left the Hornets’ record at 13-8, snapping a 4-games skid.

It followed a disappointing 47-42 defeat for the Lady Hornets (16-5, 2-3 conf.), who now would need to advance to at least the district tournament championship game and defeat powerhouse Maryville at least once to reach that tough target in this COVID-19-curtailed season.

The Hornets, also now 2-3 in the conference prior to Tuesday’s varsity doubleheader at Cameron, achieved a couple of first-time-ever milestones related to coaches.

With 10th-season head coach Tim Cool still quarantining as he deals with a case of COVID-19, for a third game in a row, Tim Cunningham, the program’s top assistant coach since 2007-08, filled in as head coach.

Thus, when the Hornets rode a 14-3 run over a 5½ minutes span of the third and fourth quarter to a 16-points lead and later raised it to 18 with under four minutes left, they recorded the program’s first win without Cool present since early 2011 and handed Cunningham his first-ever victory as a basketball head coach, even if only a temporary one.

Facing the same foe they’ll duel in an elimination game next Monday at Savannah, the CHS boys played pretty solidly, especially on defense, all game.

They traded points, more or less evenly, through the first five minutes before a pair of Hayden Simmer free throws put them in front for the first time, 10-9.

The Savages (8-12, 2-5 conf.), seeded ahead of the Hornets for the district tourney and thus getting to host next week’s game only because they split two games with both St. Joseph: Benton and Maryville – each of which CHS has faced only once, responded with four points in a row to own a 13-10 lead after one quarter, but that largely was its last hurrah.

Mason Baxter drove to score and Griff Bonderer drained a 3-pointer from 21 feet past the top of the key in the first 95 seconds of the second stanza to reclaim the upper hand for CHS. The Hornets would not trail again.

Another long Bonderer trey and James Mathew’s “and-1” play off Baxter’s setup about a minute later bumped the Chillicothe margin up to 21-15 and the Hornets would lead by six, 26-20, at halftime.

The second half started very slowly with the only scoring of the first 3:15 being a Savages free throw. Once CHS got its offense back in gear, however, it pulled away quickly.

Wyatt Brandsgaard, who double-doubled, began the Hornets’ game-deciding surge with a strong drive from the top of the key down the right edge of the paint with 4:38 left in the third stanza.

Following a couple of Bonderer free throws and a Savannah three-points play, the visitors rang up 10 unanswered points.

Two more Bonderer charity tosses started it and his easy transition lay-in off an alert pass from midcourt by Baxter gave CHS the game’s first double-digits lead with 1:48 left in the frame.

When sophomore Bonderer snared a teammate’s missed shot a couple of feet in front of the hoop and, after delaying for a moment or two, finally going back up to hit a putback, Chillicothe owned a 36-24 lead going to the last stanza.

The between-periods stoppage didn’t faze the Hornets, who got a driving Baxter bucket 20 seconds into the fourth and two Eli Cross foul shots at the 7:05 mark. That made it a 16-points lead and the closest Savannah was thereafter was 11 points.

Statistically, even though he was blanked in the last period, Bonderer finished with a game-high 21 tallies. While he narrowly missed a double-double by collecting nine rebounds, Brandsgaard had one, pairing 13 points with 10 caroms claimed.

Another key component in the Hornets’ victory was their 18-of-22 free-throw work, while Savannah went only five of 11.

Two Savages provided all but seven of their team’s points. With a strong start, forward Wes Darnell totaled 17 points and, with a very strong finish, guard Quay Jeter netted 14.

The CHS girls trailed much of their game, not gaining their first lead until the final five minutes, largely due to first-half defensive woes and spotty free-throw shooting.

However, with less than two minutes left, the Lady Hornets were nursing a 42-41 lead and effectively running time off the clock while looking for a point-blank scoring opportunity or a foul from Savannah when what video confirmed was a phantom offensive foul was called.

Regaining possession of the ball, Savannah quickly scored against a stunned CHS group to re-take the lead with still 1:38 remaining.

Chillicothe worked and worked the ball around the perimeter with little effect on the ensuing possession before forcing up a guarded shot from 17 feet that missed with just over a half-minute left.

Scrambling to try to get the ball back, even though they trailed by only a point, the Lady Hornets couldn’t catch up to it before a Savannah pass from just in the forecourt found Emma Tipton unguarded under the basket. Catching it, she hesitated momentarily as a CHS defender ran past her trying to knock the ball away rather than fouling her to prevent a basket, then banked the ball off the glass and in with 25 seconds to go.

Still within three and with a timeout in hand, the Lady Hornets had plenty of time to attack the basket for either a likely-softly-defended, high-percentage inside shot it could follow with a quick, clock-stopping foul or, if multiple defenders collapsed to prevent that, make a kick-out pass to set up an open 3-pointer.

Instead, they rushed up a guarded trey attempt with about 12 seconds left that didn’t come close. Without any points from the possession, when CHS had to foul following the rebound and Savannah’s Riley Benight completed a 12-of-13 night at the free-throw line with two more “makes” with nine seconds left, the game was over.

Statistically, Benight poured through a game-high 24 points, adding two trifectas and three deuces to her many foul shots. Lexi Jones chipped in 11.

Chillicothe’s girls had 19 from Jessica Reeter with freshman Jolie Bonderer unofficially reaching double digits in rebounds with 10 to go with nine points. Senior center Brooke Horton had a team-high 12 boards, unofficially.