A solid season for Benton came to an end Monday at the hands of a tough Centralia squad in the opening round of the Salem Class 3A Regional in boys basketball.
Preston Johannes scored 12 of his game-high 14 points in the second half to lead the Orphans past the Rangers, 48-39.
Benton played well early on and led for nearly all of the first half. Joey Craig sank a jump shot in the lane as the Rangers claimed an 18-12 advantage with 2:35 left in the second quarter.
That's when Centralia caught fire. Tyree Westbrook drained three consecutive shots from beyond the arc, and the Orphans finished the half on a 12-0 run.
"We talked about that in the timeout, about staying close and not letting them go on a run," said Benton coach Ron Winemiller. "Unfortunately, kind of an unsung guy (Westbrook) was the difference in the game. I thought Westbrook and Crue Walker were the two best players for them tonight."
Walker buried the final 3-pointer of the first half to cap off the 12-point streak for the Orphans.
Things went really well for Benton in the first quarter. Brad Hammond finished an early 9-0 run with a triple. Hammond nailed another 3-pointer, and the Rangers held a 14-4 lead with one minute left in the first quarter.
Mason Wills scored the other six points during Benton's dominant first period. The Rangers still led for the first six minutes of the second quarter and forced Centralia into some poor shot choices from long range.
"I thought defensively, our guys did as good as they possibly could and gave ourselves a chance to win," Winemiller said. "You've got to stay kind of hugged up on the shooters, which creates some driving lanes, and they took advantage of that a little bit in the second half."
Winemiller was referring to Johannes, who was a non-factor on offense in the first half. But at one point late in the third and early in the fourth period, Johannes scored eight straight points for Centralia.
The Rangers simply couldn't recover. Freshman Reid Baumgarte drained a 3-pointer, which sliced Benton's deficit to just six with 3:27 left in the contest. But the Orphans quickly pushed their advantage back up to 12 points.
"It's tough to simulate what we see at this level in 3A in practice," Winemiller said. "This will end our foray into 3A, so we will slide back to 2A (next season)."
With an enrollment of just 547 students, Benton was at the bottom of the statewide Class 3A field, which features many schools with more than double that number of students.
Wills paced Benton with 13 points, Craig added 12, and Hammond contributed 11.
The future is bright for the Rangers, who lose just two seniors, Wills and Craig, to graduation.
"I think Joey and Mason both had great seasons," Winemiller said. "I think Joey's season, if you ask him, probably far exceeded his expectations with what he did. And Mason did so much of the intangible stuff for us. You say we're a young team, but those guys will be really tough for us to replace next year."
Benton wrapped up its 2018-19 campaign with a record of 19-12.