Basketball Lady Hornets can’t sustain hot start, fall at Benton

CHS' fast-fadnig 41-26 loss Tuesday ended its fine season with 17-8 mark

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Multiple St. Joseph: Benton "help" defenders react to cut off Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets guard Jessica Reeter's would-be drive toward the basket after she has beaten her assigned defender in the second quarter of last Tuesday's Class 4 District 16 Tournament semifinal game at St. Joseph. Reeter's momentum and the attempt of one Benton defenders to grab the ball resulted in a traveling violation. Unofficially, CHS committed eight first-half turnovers to none by Benton and unofficial game totals were 19 turnovers by the Lady Hornets and only six by the home team, contributing greatly to Chillicothe's season-ending 41-26 defeat.
  • Chillicothe High Lady Hornets finish season with 17-8 record

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

ST. JOSEPH — What proved to be the Chillicothe High School basketball Lady Hornets’ final game of the 2020-21 season last Tuesday followed an arc similar to their season as a whole – a strong start, but, by the end, a staggering finish.

Lady Hornets Essie Hicks, Jessica Reeter, and Selby Miller fired home consecutive 3-points shots in just under 2:40 of the first quarter to establish an 11-3 Chillicothe lead over host St. Joseph: Benton.

However, coming out of a timeout following Miller’s pull-up triple from the right wing with 2:50 left in the opening stanza, taller, yet seemingly quicker, Benton extended its perimeter player-to-player defense both on and off the ball. When Chillicothe proved incapable of countering that with quicker passing and aggressive player movement away from the ball, its attack grew weaker and weaker and its mistakes ever more frequent until it was held without a field goal and two only two free throws in the fourth quarter as BHS’ Lady Cardinals turned a 29-24 contest after three stanzas into a 41-26 triumph.

In a post-game broadcast interview, Chillicothe head coach Darren Smith remarked, “We’ve been kind of inconsistent the last couple or three weeks with (outside shooting). I thought maybe, with the way it started, we were going to be ‘on’ tonight.

“… We had a lot of good looks. We got inside (chances), we got outside, we had open looks, we had contested looks – we even had some free throws – and we just couldn’t get (the ball) to go in after that first quarter.”

Complicating things beyond the general inability to find and hit shots was the significant disparity in ball security.

While Benton was playing the entire first half without a turnover, Chillicothe lost the ball eight times – probably more than half of those without getting a shot at the basket. Then, after some improvement in the ratio in the third quarter when Benton had a flurry of four giveaways in a short span, the last segment saw CHS lose the ball eight times, resulting in unofficial game totals of 19 Chillicothe turnovers and only six by Benton.

Whether it played a role in the way the game unfolded or not can’t be known, but the contest was the CHS girls’ fifth in eight nights following a weather-induced 13-days layoff.

Smith previously had noted that at least a handful of those 13 days off saw the team not able to have a practice. Once the Lady Hornets resumed competition, they clearly lacked sharpness in their execution. However, likely not coincidentally, most of the opponents who beat them down the stretch were quality squads which made it tough to operate efficiently or successfully.

After making five baskets in the game’s first 9:45 – not a torrid pace, but enough to have themselves in front 13-5 as Benton started the game missing from most spots on the floor, the Lady Hornets – perhaps taking a cue from the CHS boys’ shooting woes from the field the night before at Savannah – made only one bucket in the next 9-plus minutes of play, leaving them in arrears 25-15 three minutes into the second half.

A driving shot by Hicks and Jolie Bonderer’s reverse conversion underneath after receiving a penetrating Miller’s pass as Bonderer cut to the lane along the left baseline offered hope of Chillicothe finally having sorted out how to make Benton play for overplaying the perimeter, cutting the gap to six with two minutes left in the third quarter.

After no scoring over the next 100 seconds, a CHS misplay as it, in theory, looked for a final shot of the quarter with a chance to get within three or four allowed Benton’s Jaida Cox to go coast-to-coast for a potentially-spirit-breaking layup that pushed her team’s lead back to eight with nine seconds remaining.

However, against no defensive pressure, J. Reeter dribbled the ball upcourt and, with two seconds on the clock, launched a set shot from about 27 feet that swished at the buzzer. While not as impactful as it would have been without the Cox deuce, the buzzer-beating trey at least had Chillicothe back within five, 29-24, as it began the fourth quarter with the ball.

With a chance to make it a 1-possession game, CHS instead came up empty within 20 seconds and Benton quickly converted at the other end with Kelsey Johnson’s driving scoop shot.

While that only made the separation seven points at 31-24, considering the Lady Hornets’ scoring pace since early in the second quarter – 11 points in over 15 minutes, that gap left some wondering if the game already might be out of Chillicothe’s reach. However, even those skeptics likely would not have anticipated that the Lady Hornets not only wouldn’t reach 31, they’d not reach 25 until only 1:16 was left in the game and Benton had turned the 7-points lead into 17.

With Chillicothe repeatedly losing the ball in traffic as it either tried to pass or drive inside, usually without getting a shot attempt, Benton had no trouble running time off the clock and then sinking eight of 10 free throws to put the game away.

After two earlier stretches of more than 4-1/2 minutes between baskets and points – Chillicothe was outscored 20-2 in the next 8-1/2 minutes after Bonderer’s right-side layup made it 13-5 at the 6:18 mark of the second quarter, the Lady Hornets closed with an 8-minutes stretch without a basket while being outscored 12-2.

“The girls were executing. They were trying to do what we needed to do,” Smith stated in his post-game interview. “It just came down to we just couldn’t get the ball to go in the hole. It just wouldn’t go. It’d get close, but we couldn’t get her to fall on through.”

Statistically, in addition to the unofficial 19-6 difference in turnovers, the Lady Hornets did not generate a double-digits scorer. J. Reeter’s team-high eight points came on her two treys and the final two free throws. Those foul shots were half of CHS’ total attempts in the game, all coming in the fourth quarter.

Cox, with 16 points, was the contest’s only dual-digits scorer, but the Lady Cardinals had three others with either seven or nine.

“They’re a really good defensive team and they’ve got a lot of weapons offensively,” Smith saluted the south St. Joseph school’s squad, which will play Maryville for the district crown.