By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
SEDALIA - Benton raced out to a 21-5 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the game pretty much felt in hand for the remainder of the time.
The Cardinals (26-3) controlled the tempo from start to finish, leading by as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter before Nevada got some late buckets on Benton's reserves.
Still, Benton won 53-45 Saturday in state quarterfinals at State Fair Community College in Sedalia. The Cardinals have punched their ticket to the Class 4 Final Four for a record third consecutive season.
"It's amazing," said senior and Missouri Western signee Kelsey Johnson. "I'm glad we're going three times in a row. Hopefully, we can bring home the ring this time!"
Johnson sparked Benton early with 10 points in the first quarter alone. Johnson and fellow senior Peyton Anderson combined for three made triples in the first to fuel the big start.
"We knew we had to come out and play as hard as we possibly can and not get down," Johnson said.
Nevada (22-7) pulled a bit closer in the second quarter, but Benton still led 31-18 at halftime.
Defensively, Benton wore Nevada out down the stretch, as the Tigers were held to just two made field goals in the third quarter. The Cardinals pushed their lead to 49-28 with 3:56 left in the game.
Not long after, after a steal and fastbreak layup by Simmons in the closing minutes, head coach Chris Michaels called timeout, and the starters came off the floor with smiles on their faces and a roaring cheer behind them.
"It was so fun," Simmons said. "I love it whenever our crowd travels with us. They're one of the best fanbases around."
"I mean, they drove 2.5 hours for us, so you can't get any better than that," Johnson concurred.
Johnson led all scorers with 18 points. Simmons was right behind with 15. Anderson and junior Avery Morlock had seven, while freshman Eliana Arambula finished with six.
Benton made history Saturday, becoming the first high school basketball team, boys or girls, in St. Joseph history to qualify for three consecutive Final Fours.
The Cardinals will now shoot for more history in Springfield this coming week, trying to give the program its third ever state title and first since 2016.
Benton finished fourth at Springfield in 2021 and then runner-up just last year.
"Third time's a charm," Simmons grinned. "You never know!"
Benton will face Central Park Hills (27-3) in state semifinals on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Great Southern Bank Arena on the Missouri State campus.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.