Basketball Hornets contend for half, drop season finale by 19

Richmond uses 10-0, 9-0 spurts to separate for 63-44 victory

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News
Having overplayed the passing late on a Richmond pass from the right wing toward the top of the key and deflected it upcourt for a steal, sophomore forward Wyatt Brandsgaard of the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets provides one of the CHS highlights of Wednesday's Class 4 District 16 Tournament semifinal game at RIchmond by finishing an uncontested layup during the second period. Undaunted, Richmond reeled off a dozen points in a row at the end of the first half and start of the second to assume full command on its way to a 63-44 triumph.
  • Chillicothe boys' basketball team ends 2020-21 season with 15-10 mark

By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor

RICHMOND — For most of the first half Wednesday night, things went about as well as the Chillicothe High School basketball Hornets could reasonably hope as they battled the top-seeded Richmond Spartans on the RHS court in the semifinals of the Class 4 District 16 Tournament.

Once things slipped away, though, there was no effective way for the Hornets to get them back and extend their admirable season.

In front three times in the first two periods – the last time at 15-14 on the second of back-to-back trifectas by sophomore guard and leading scorer Griff Bonderer, Chillicothe trailed only 19-17 three minutes before halftime and was within 24-19 at intermission.

However, shooting very well from long distance as smaller CHS focused on trying to deny the Spartans’ two big men the ball in the low-post area, Richmond knocked down its seventh and eighth treys of the game – all of its field goals to that time, in fact – within the first 1:45 of the third period. Those bombs blew the lead up to double digits for the first time and the Spartans (21-3) let it dwindle below 10 for only 20 seconds the rest of the night as they posted a 63-44 verdict.

“Our game plan – our guys did it to perfection,” Hornets 10th-year head coach Tim Cool disclosed in a post-game broadcast interview. “… The adjustment (Richmond) made tonight (from its usual approach) was they shot the ball really well from outside.”

Cool said he was pleased with his players’ mindset for the tall task they faced, trying to combat 6’8”, 280-pounds Spartans sophomore Jack Gogue and 6’3” power forward Keyshawn Elliott in and around the paint with players shorter and lighter.

“Our guys were really focused and very ready. Not intimidated at all,” the CHS coach praised. “The moment was not too big.

“Richmond played well – and so did we.”

The outcome concluded the CHS boys’ 2020-21 season with a 15-10 record which was about the best that could have optimistically been hoped for from a  squad which had graduated about 95 percent of its scoring and rebounding from the previous season.

“It’s hard for me to even describe how proud I am of this group – not just tonight, (but) all season long,” reflected Cool.

“We had a bunch of guys that came together – we didn’t have any time together in the summer (like normal), but they showed up every day in practice and got better and believed in each other and fought hard for each other. ”

The 2020-21 Hornets included three seniors, two of whom (Hayden Simmer and Mason Baxter) started full-time for a second-straight year and the third (Eli Cross) being the top reserve guard.

While four players who started regularly or extensively – two essentially split a spot – will be eligible to return as juniors or sophomores in 2021-22, finding depth for next season will be a challenge, as it was this season. Cool routinely utilized only seven players for significant minutes with an eighth seeing sparing, fill-in action. Top scorer and rebounder Bonderer (14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds) presumably will be among those returning.

Richmond moves on in pursuit of a second-straight district crown, facing St. Joseph: Benton for the title Friday. Benton rallied from a sizable deficit to eliminate Maryville Wednesday.

As Cool stressed, Chillicothe demonstrated the readiness and willingness to scrap with the bigger foe right away Wednesday.

Helping influence several Richmond shot misses for the first couple of minutes, the Hornets cashed in on their first possession on Simmer’s 16-feet pull-up jumper from the key 40 seconds into the contest. When Bonderer used a slight hesitation on the dribble to slip into the paint and float a “teardrop” shot in over Gogue with 5:48 on the clock, CHS held a 4-0 lead.

That proved to be the Hornets’ only multi-possessions lead of the game.

Spartans junior guard Spencer Wolf, generally speaking his team’s scoring option of last resort, demonstrated that such status reflected more his teammates’ capabilities than his own lacking of same by swishing a right-wing 3-pointer from about 22 feet not quite three minutes into the contest, breaking the scoring ice for the hosts. They’d never go anywhere near that long without scoring again.

Senior Wyatt Covey splashed home another right-side RHS triple 45 seconds later to give his team a 6-4 lead, but, 70 seconds after that, Simmer converted the first of Baxter’s team-high five assists into a trifecta from the right wing, restoring Chillicothe to the lead, 7-6.

Richmond almost instantly answered in kind with Wolf bombing another from quarter-court on the right side and, with CHS being blanked the final 3:10 of the opening period, Layne Cavanah’s triple – again from the right wing – left the favorites possessing a 12-7 advantage going to the second stanza.

A setup by Cayden Potter led to slender  freshman forward-center James Mathew cashing in from point-blank distance on the left side about 25 seconds into the segment, signaling Chillicothe’s intent to “stay in the fight.”

That point was made emphatic after two Gogue free throws when Bonderer pumped in back-to-back pull-up 3s from the top of the key in less than a half-minute. When the second one sizzled the nylon, the underdog Hornets were in front once more, 15-14, with 6:45 showing on the second-period clock.

That wasn’t Chillicothe’s last hurrah, but was its last lead.

Even though the Hornets’ defense helped prevent Richmond from hitting a basket for more than 3-1/2 minutes to start the second quarter, their offense lost its way, producing only two buckets and four points in the next 10 minutes plus and seeing the game convert from a 1-points CHS lead to a 14-points deficit in the interim.

After the Spartans regained the upper hand for good at 16-15 on two free throws by Cavanah, grandson of legendary retired area football coach Shane Cavanah, Wolfe connected from – of course – the right wing yet again to make the hosts’ lead four.

Another Chillicothe 10th grader, Wyatt Brandsgaard, smartly overplayed the passing lane between the right wing and top of the key on the next RHS possession and used his left hand to deflect a pass toward the key away toward midcourt. Charging after it, he cruised in for an uncontested layup at the 3:40 mark of the second period, drawing the Hornets back within a deuce.

Following another pair of Richmond free throws and reserve Jordan Alexander’s left-side 3-pointer, Brandsgaard again hit from short range in transition, converting Baxter’s pass with a head-fake and then left-handed 3-footer. to narrow the margin back to four about 1:50 away from intermission.

Even though only a Richmond free throw changed the scoreboard the rest of the first half, Chillicothe could not score and make it a 1-possession game going to the second.

Trailing 24-19 as the second half began, the Hornets might have thrown the eventual outcome into serious doubt, if they could have reinvigorated their and their fans’ energy level with some quick offensive success. Instead, just the opposite happened.

After making six treys and no deuces before halftime, Richmond continued to utilize that approach at the start of the second to create daunting daylight.

Again, it was Wolfe getting the Spartans going, from the right corner on this occasion. When Covey spotted up there, too, and knocked down a 20-footer at the 6:20 mark of the third period, the Spartans’ triples-only floor show had them on top 30-19.

With Chillicothe going more than three minutes into the last half in pursuit of its first post-intermission points, the writing on the wall grew into clearer and clearer focus.

Following an Elliott free throw, Gogue at least netted the Spartans’ first 2-points bucket of the game at the 4:50 mark, capping a string of 10 consecutive Richmond points that left it in command, 33-19.

Mathew’s second-chance bank shot from about eight feet on the right side provided Chillicothe’s first basket of the half and its first points in more than five minutes of game time and briefly reignited the CHS attack.

Although Gogue answered with a power-move lay-in on the left side within 15 seconds, Simmer’s drive from the key along the right edge of the lane produced a nice shot off the window and Bonderer knocked down a “3” at the top of the key, again aided by Baxter. That triple with 3:09 left in the third segment drew the Hornets within nine, 35-26.

If they could have found a way to stay there or edge even closer during the rest of the quarter, the Hornets might have shaken Richmond’s confidence and raised their own enough to stage a game-stealing fourth-quarter comeback. After all, on the CHS floor a year before, the Spartans had stared down a double-digits deficit in the third quarter and charged down the stretch to swipe a 1-point win over the veteran, top-seeded Hornets.

That’s not what happened this time, though.

Rather, Richmond used the next two minutes to put up nine unanswered points, including another couple of 3-pointers, doubling its lead to 44-26. Eventually, after CHS nibbled it down to 13 after three quarters and 12 on a Bonderer trey with 6:22 to play, the Spartans’ cushion was inflated all the way to 22 with a couple of minutes left.

“That was a battle,” Cool summarized. “We knew it would be.”

Statistically, Chillicothe’s modest scoring was paced by Bonderer’s game-high 19 tallies, most of them coming on his handful of 3s. Simmer, with Bonderer the only consistent scorers this year’s Hornets had, finished with 16 to leave his senior-season average at a very respectable 13.6, 0.8 lower than Bonderer’s.

Not only did that tandem lead the offense, but Bonderer’s 6.2 rebounds and Simmer’s 5.6 boards were the club’s top averages, as well.

With a handful of helpers against Richmond, Baxter raised his team-best assists average to 3.6 per game. The senior also paced the squad in steals with 1.6 a game.

Unofficially, by a combination of CHS and C-T, the out-sized Hornets admirably out-rebounded Richmond 34-31. However, the Spartans had a 12-6 advantage in second-chance points and committed only six turnovers to Chillicothe’s unofficial 11.

Richmond, eventually getting nine second-half 2-points baskets from the Gogue-Elliott combo in the last 11 minutes, still exceeded outside that from beyond the arc. A half-dozen Spartans rained in a total of 11 3-pointers.

Scoring-wise, after having only two free throws on his line at halftime, the huge Gogue, allowed by game officials to bump Hornets off their defensive spots and reach over them for rebound the entire game – never once being ticketed for a foul despite lots of repeated contact, eventually bulled his way to 17 points. Elliott, after having a point at intermission, wound up matching the unheralded Wolfe’s 12. All of the latter’s more-impactful tallies came from downtown.