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Rangers rack up Fairfield, win Regional

  • Members of the Benton basketball team and coaching staff pose with the Carmi-White County 2A Regional Championship trophy after beating Fairfield 58-45 Friday night.

    Members of the Benton basketball team and coaching staff pose with the Carmi-White County 2A Regional Championship trophy after beating Fairfield 58-45 Friday night.

By Spyder Dann
updated: 2/28/2020 11:00 PM

Like any heavyweight fight, Fairfield and Benton squared up and exchanged blows Friday night in the title game of the 2A Regional at Carmi-White County High School.

There was no judge's decision as Benton senior came out swinging - especially in the second half - scoring 19 of his game-high 27 points in leading the Rangers to a 58-45 win over the top seeded Mules.

For Lewis, it was the quintessential senior moment that most kids dream of.

Lewis' dream became a reality Friday.

"This is what you work for all year. It's indescribable," Lewis said. "I can't even put it into words. Everybody counted us out except for us. The atmosphere surprised me more than anything. I really didn't think this many people were going to turn out and how many fans we had come support us. It was crazy."

Fighting out of the maroon corner at 6-foot-4 and playing the combo forward position, Lewis had his way against the Fairfield defense, where a chunk of his points came via the free throw line as Lewis went a perfect 11-for-11 from the charity stripe in the second half and more importantly 7-for-7 in the fourth quarter with a lead, keeping Fairfield at arms length.

"We made that a big point at halftime, coach said, 'you guys have to get to the free throw line and get down there and get some points in the paint.' So that's what I tried to do."

Benton head coach Ron Winemiller, who won his fourth regional, highlighted how Lewis kept attacking the rim, which he said was the difference in the second half as the Rangers outscored Fairfield 36-18.

"I said, 'Don't settle, don't pull up.' And he just continued to get to the rim and made a bunch of big free throws for us to get some separation. I told him when we took him out, man, I'm so proud of him. He's grinded away and had some injuries and stuff. For him to be able to play in an atmosphere like this, man you have to be proud of him."

Reece Johnson was also pivotal for Benton in the second half, helping erase a 27-22 deficit and tie the game at 34-all after the end of the third period.

Johnson had 15 points, 10 of which came in the second half.

Reid Baumgarte finished with five for Benton (27-7), while Brad Hammond and Wyatt McClintock all flipped in four points. Jacob Seidel rounded out the scoring, tacking on three points.

Fairfield, who was the No. 2 seed, put three players in double figures as Kane Hixenbaugh and Landon Zurliene all tossed in 12 points. Wyatt Gilbert had 10 points.

The Mules (27-5) got a pair of four-point performances from Noah McElravy and Luke Dagg. Brandon Lane had two points and Colin Massie tossed in a free throw.

The game featured 10 lead changes, the last coming with 4:18 to go in the game, when Johnson's bucket put Benton up 38-36 and was part of an 8-0 run by Benton that concluded with 3:15 to play on a pair of free throws by Johnson to make it 42-36.

Free throws were a big part of the win for Benton, who finished 16-for-18 in the game.

"(Fairfield) missed some shots and we made some free throws," Winemiller said. "We're not a great free throw shooting team. We went 15-for -18 in the fourth quarter. That's pretty good. The stars kind of aligned for us and kind of lined up against them. In an one-game-and-out scenario, that's the way it goes sometimes."

Up next for Benton is a matchup agains Nashville Tuesday night in the first round of the Hamilton County Sectional, starting at 7 p.m.

Nashville won the Red Bud Regional, beating Belleville Althoff 52-27 Friday night.

Benton has one win against Nashville this season, clipping the Hornets 28-26 back on December 21st.

Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois Local Media News Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.