GOREVILLE — As the one returning starter in Benton’s lineup, Carson Lewis knew what he had to do with the game on the line Saturday night.
“I tried to get to the basket, get to the line and give us a chance to win,” he said.
Mission accomplished. Lewis drew a foul with 2.3 seconds left and drained the first free throw as the Rangers completed a 5-0 run through the Goreville Invitational Tournament with a 51-50 decision over the plucky Blackcats.
It was the last of 10 points for Lewis, a 6-3 junior who appears to be one of the most versatile players in the area. He missed the second free throw intentionally and time expired before Logyn Frassato could heave up a halfcourt runner.
For Benton, the tournament offered up proof that it might still be a contender in SIRR Ohio despite having to replace most of its scoring from last year’s conference champions.
“We’re a lot tougher than people give us credit for,” said Lewis. “We’re a lot of young, inexperienced guys, but we bring a lot to the table. I think we’re going to have a really good year.”
There is now evidence to suggest that Goreville (2-3) could fall into that same category. After losing all five starters from a team that made it to the Class 1A Final Four in March, not much was expected from the Blackcats.
Opening losses to Hardin County and Hamilton County did little to increase expectations. The weekend’s tripleheader – narrow wins over Anna-Jonesboro and Johnston City, plus the last-possession defeat to the Rangers – has whetted coach Todd Tripp’s appetite.
“This is fun, that’s what I want,” he said. “We played a good ballgame, had a chance to win at the end. We’re going to get better.”
Goreville rallied from a 48-39 deficit early in the fourth quarter, largely thanks to the creative shotmaking of 5-8 junior guard Luke Brown. He scored eight points on a series of bold drives to the hole to bring it within 50-47.
When 6-2 junior forward Landon Albright, the most experienced returnee from last year’s team, converted a 3-point play with 2:25 remaining, the Blackcats were dead-even. And after Briley Dunn rebounded a Brad Holland miss at the other end, Goreville had a chance for the lead.
But the last of only six turnovers wiped out that opportunity with about 45 seconds left. Benton milked the clock to 19.1 seconds remaining and called timeout.
With four fouls to give, the Blackcats used one of them with 7.7 ticks on the clock, Brown nearly coming up with a steal at midcourt. As Lewis caught the inbounds pass, Tripp jumped up and down, making the signal to slap at the ball in hopes of a steal or at least using another foul to force another inbounds pass.
Lewis wouldn’t allow Frassato to do it. He maneuvered around him and gained the lane quickly, forcing Rhet Schuetz to body him on a runner that rimmed out. The whistle put him at the line, where the tournament MVP calmly took care of business.
“He just got caught up in the moment,” Tripp said of Frassato. “You know, he guarded that kid better than anyone has guarded him all week. It was a learning experience. It’s about growing, and this is a young team.”
Hammond and Grant Gordon also scored 10 points for balanced Benton. Brown tallied a game-high 12 for Goreville, while Frassato and Albright added 11 points each.
Rangers coach Ron Winemiller liked seeing his team get tested at the end.
“I love this game,” he said. “I love playing Todd on Saturday night with this place going crazy. What better way to baptize some of these guys under fire than coming down here and playing in a hostile environment?”