By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
SPRINGFIELD - Benton was in a position Thursday that they really hadn't been in all season long.
Down by double digits in the second half.
Trailing 39-24 with 2:21 left in the third quarter, the Cardinals (27-3) ended the third on a 7-0 run to get it back to within single digits.
That was just the start, as Benton ended the game on a 31-9 run and topped Central Park Hills 55-48 in overtime in Class 4 state semifinals at Great Southern Bank Arena in Springfield on Thursday.
"We're really, really proud of our girls," Benton coach Chris Michaels said. "To come back from not a very good half, and to be truthfully honest, what we told them (at halftime) is 'they're outrebounding you, and you're not playing Benton defense.'"
The biggest difference down the stretch, Michaels said, was the rebounding. The Cardinals were outrebounded 13-6 in the first half, but Benton managed to pull down 20 rebounds in the second half.
"We tied (with Central Park Hills) in rebounds the second half," Michaels said. "I think that's what it really came down to. We didn't give them second chances."
Benton tied the game twice in the fourth quarter. The second time, it was an Andrea Simmons three-pointer with 45 seconds left in regulation to knot it at 44-44.
Each team had a look at a game winning shot in the closing moments of regulation, but both missed and the game went to overtime.
Benton grabbed its first lead of the game just 25 seconds into the OT period, when Peyton Anderson went 1-for-2 on a free throw trip.
The Cardinals led 45-44 with 3:35 left in OT, and never trailed again.
Anderson and Johnson in overtime combined to hit six free throws in a row to put the game on ice. Simmons also had a layup with 30 seconds left to put Benton up 53-48.
What's more, Central Park Hills was just 1-of-4 from the field in overtime.
Simmons and Johnson led Benton with 16 points each. Johnson also had eight rebounds and two blocks. Anderson had 10 points, while freshman Eliana Arambula had 10 as well.
Benton shot 48.7 percent from the field Thursday, and the Cardinals were a stellar 12-of-15 at the free throw line. Defensively, Benton held Central Park Hills to 38.1 percent shooting, and the Rebels finished with 15 turnovers.
Benton now advances to a state championship game in girls' basketball for the fourth time in program history. Benton will now see No. 1 ranked Vashon (26-5) for the title on Friday at 4 p.m.
The game will be broadcast on StJosephPost.com. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.
After finishing fourth at state in 2021, and second in 2022, Benton is more determined than ever to hang another state championship banner at Springer Gymnasium. It'd be the first one since 2016 and the third one all time.
"You've been working for one thing and one thing only and that is to play in this game tomorrow," Michaels said, "put your best effort forward and whatever happens happens for us. Obviously, we're proud of them no matter what, but we will be disappointed if we're not holding the big trophy when it's all said and done."
Chris Michaels interview
Full game broadcast
Photos by Clifton Grooms.
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