BENTON — The Benton Rangerettes turned a four-point second quarter deficit into an 11-point win to hand West Frankfort its first conference loss of the season with a 61-50 win on Thursday.
"It’s no secret we’ve had trouble scoring in the early part of the season, but tonight it was a total team effort," said Benton coach Andy Sloan. "It was nice to see our kids play with confidence to get that lead and be able to protect it. This is a big rivalry, so you try to play level-headed, and tonight we were able to do that."
Benton (4-6, 1-2 Ohio) snapped its own two-game losing streak while also ending the SIRR Ohio Division leader's four-game winning streak.
Senior center Alexis Abney scored three baskets and pulled down four rebounds in the last five minutes of the third quarter to turn a tie score into a seven-point Benton lead.
"Alexis came off the bench and sparked the team," Sloan said. "When we get her down there, she is hard to stop in the post."
With the score tied at 35, Abney scored her first basket of the game with five minutes remaining in the quarter to start a 9-2 run. Kaylee Pedigo followed with a layup, and after Cali Wright made two free throws for the Redbirds, Ally Gischer swished a 3-pointer to give Benton a five-point margin.
"Even though Ally was shooting pretty good, I knew I had to start to get some baskets inside and get some rebounds on defense," Abney said.
Abney then scored from under the net to extend the lead to seven. Wright scored to cut it back to five, but Abney again scored from the lane to regain Benton’s seven-point margin with 54 seconds left in the quarter.
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West Frankfort (7-4, 2-1 Ohio) cut the lead back to three heading into the fourth quarter, but the Rangerettes regained their momentum with two buckets by Zoe Carlton followed by Abney scoring on a backdoor pass from Eb Casey to regain the seven-point margin.
Gischer then sank four three throws to give the Rangerettes its biggest lead of the game at that point, 58-48, with 1:32 remaining. Gischer led Benton with 23 points, including 10-fo-12 from the line.
"There were a couple instances where we had point-blank looks at the goal and couldn’t get anything to fall," said West Frankfort coach Matt Hampleman. "Their size in the post bothered us a lot. They played a great game and probably shot the ball as well as they have all year long. We had only three girls score and we can’t do that and expect to win big games."
The first half was back-and-forth, with Benton taking a seven-point lead with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by Casey. The Rangerettes extended their lead to eight on a basket by Gischer, but the Redbirds rallied back starting with a 3-pointer by Wright. Wright finished with 18 points.
West Frankfort held a four-point lead with 20 seconds remaining in the half, but Gischer drew a foul with seven seconds remaining and made both free throw attempts to cut the halftime deficit to two, 30-28.
Casey opened the second half with her third 3-pointer from the top of the key to give Benton a 31-30 lead. Gischer followed with layup to extend the lead to three. With 5:21 remaining in the third quarter, Morgan Griffith tied the game at 35 on another three-point play.
Griffith led the game with 28 points, including 10-of-11 from the line.