By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Benton has done it again.
The Cardinals (24-3), with the pressure on them and the target on their backs all season, made it back to the district championship game for a sixth straight season.
Winning these big games has become the expectation for Benton, and once again, it's become the reality.
Benton survived a back-and-forth slugfest with rival Chillicothe, and slowly wore out the Hornets late in a 50-39 win in the Class 4 District 16 championship at Benton High School Saturday.
It marks three straight district titles for Benton and their eighth district crown in the last 10 seasons.
"We won't ever judge our success based on how many wins we have," Benton head coach Chris Michaels said. "But, boy, it's really really nice to be able to look girls in the face and say, 'I'm proud of you. You've been there three straight years.'"
Chillicothe (23-5) got off to a 10-6 start in the first quarter, but Benton fired back with a 7-0 run to end the first and went up 13-10 entering the second.
The Hornets hit two threes in the second quarter to pull closer, but an Andrea Simmons layup in the closing minute of the second put Benton up 19-18 at the break.
The Hornets started the second half strong, getting out to a 24-21 lead, but both teams went back and forth for a bit, with the score tied 31-31 midway through the third.
The game was very back-and-forth, especially through the first three quarters. Saturday's contest featured nine lead changes and three ties in all.
"We felt like we just needed to ride the rollercoaster, control the runs, and I feel like that's what we did," Michaels said.
The Cardinals, though, ended the third on a 6-0 run, and reeled off an 11-2 run to go up 42-33 early in the fourth.
Chillicothe never recovered from this deficit, as the Hornets made only two field goals in the fourth quarter. Benton also went 6-of-9 at the free throw line in the fourth to help secure victory.
Sophomore Andrea Simmons led Benton with 16 points. Senior Peyton Anderson had 13, while junior Avery Morlock finished with 10.
"We knew what it takes," Anderson said of winning yet another district title. "We knew (Chillicothe) was going to come in and try as hard as they possibly could, and we knew we had to outwork them."
Junior Kayanna Cranmer led Chillicothe with 15 points on three triples. The Hornets drained five threes in the first half, but just one in the second.
For a third straight season, Benton ended Chillicothe's season in the district bracket. The Cardinals have now beaten the Hornets in five straight meetings and in seven of the last nine. Benton went 3-0 against Chilli this season alone.
Benton advances to state sectionals to face MEC rival St. Pius X (15-12) on Tuesday at William Jewell. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.