After going through a year with no postseason due to COVID-19, Benton found itself back on top of the mountain with a 36-19 win over Hamilton County Friday night in the title tilt of Friday's 2A Regional at Rich Herrin Gymnasium.
The regional plaque was the first for the Rangerettes since 2016 and captured the championship with a second half defensive performance, clamping down on their Route 14 rival in Hamilton County.
After the Foxes (24-6) went up 19-18 in the third quarter with 5:08 to play, Benton went to work and stymied the opposition on both ends of the court.
Benton (24-5) didn't allow another bucket the rest of the game, bringing a lot of praise from head coach Andy Sloan.
"I thought our defense was just outstanding," Sloan said. We thought if we could keep them off the free throw line and keep them from shooting layups then we would win the ballgame. I watched them run out on the Harrisburg press Tuesday night and we didn't let them run out tonight. We played pretty good defense without fouling for the most part."
The stage wasn't too big for Benton's Malia Webb, who stepped up and gave Benton a lead they wouldn't relinquish as the freshman stepped up and knocked down back-to-back buckets, including a 3-pointer, giving the Rangerettes a 23-19 lead with 3:03 to play and closed out the game on a 18-0 run.
"She's a tough little kid and I know she had a little bit of nerves there early," Sloan said. "I think once she got rolling a little bit she really played well. The first one she hit over here, she was on the line and should've been a 3. She's a tough kid. She plays hard and does what we ask her to do and that's why she's on the floor a lot and hitting those shots is just kinda extra. Anytime you can get a kid that doesn't have a lot of experience then you worry and the stakes were big for us and she came out and played a really good game offensively and defensively."
The game featured 10 lead changes as both teams closed out the first quarter tied at six and Jacey Eubanks gave Benton a 16-15 lead at the break with a bucket at the buzzer. It was Ensley Tedeschi who came up with a steal as time expired and tossed in a layup, giving the Rangerettes a 28-19 advantage going into the final eight minutes of action.
Benton was led by Tedeschi's 14 points, while Braelyn Miller added eight points. Webb had her five points, while Jacey Eubanks finished with four points. Ryleigh Bates had a 3-pointer and Addi Krueger tossed in two points.
Sydney Downen and Jayce Wellen each scored six points for Hamilton County, while Dacey Webb tacked on three. Carson Belangee and Kalee Karcher both had two points for the Foxes.
Benton will now take on Breese Mater Dei Tuesday night in the Nashville Sectional at 7:30 p.m. Prior to that, Carterville was face off agains Nashville at 6 p.m.
Spyder Dann covers prep and college sports for the Southern Illinois LOCAL Media Group. Follow him on Twitter: @spydieshooter.