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|3/5/2014 ||Email this article Print this article |
Sabers finish strong, top Benton for state bid
|On to state. Members of the Central boys basketball team show off its state-qualifying banner to the Saber faithful after toppling Benton 58-47 in a 3A substate game, Monday night. The Sabers pulled in front late in the first quarter and never trailled again to qualify for its first state tournament since 2007. Central will take on MOC-Floyd Valley, Tuesday March 11, with tip-off scheduled for 6:35 p.m.
By Ross Eberhart
After months of hard work, the journey was nearly complete. There was just one final thing the Central boys basketball team needed to do.
Holding a five-point lead over Benton after three quarters of Monday night's 3A substate game, just eight minutes separated the Sabers from a long-awaited spot in the state tournament.
And Central was not about to let things slip away.
Instead, the Sabers added to their advantage early in the fourth quarter and then withstood a pair of late Benton surges to bring home a 58-47 win and punch their ticket to Des Moines.
Central garnered the third-seed in the tournament and will open play next Tuesday night against the sixth-seed, MOC-Floyd Valley.
"This is a very determined group of guys," Central head coach Jeff Frick said after the game. "They're close with each other off the floor and they were very motivated this season.
"I knew they would finish strong."
It was 36-31 Sabers heading to the final stanza of play, but Benton ate into the lead with the first points of the fourth.
As was the case for the entire night, Central had an answer, and it came from junior McClain Steffens, who drained a three-pointer to make it 39-33.
The Bobcats came back with a driving hoop by Owen Hopkins (the senior had a team-best 15 points), but Steffens was not done as the junior drove the lane and was fouled on his lay-up attempt.
The shot fell through the hoop and the Saber guard added the free throw to make it 42-35.
Benton again drove to the rim and got a free throw out of the possession before knocking the ball away from Central on its trip down the floor.
The Sabers, though, struck back on the ensuing inbounds play as senior Kyle Bauer got free in the right corner and drained a three-pointer to make it a nine-point game.
Not too long later, the Central senior scored again, this time on a bank-shot that gave the Sabers their first double-digit lead.
Benton struck back with a hoop, but Christian Wright scored inside, while Steffens was fouled on Central's next possession.
The guard made his first free throw, but the second bounced off the rim. The ball, though, was corralled by Marty Green, who was fouled on his put-back attempt.
Green made one-of-two free throws as well and it was a 13-point game (51-38).
Down but not out, Benton made things interesting again with five points in the span of 15 seconds. Central had a chance to end the Bobcats' mini-run, but missed a lay-up and Benton grabbed the rebound.
The Bobcats had a chance to get even closer as they drew a foul on their next possession. The first shot of the one-and-one, though, was off the mark and Central rebounded.
The Sabers made Benton pay for its missed opportunity too as Green dropped in another free throw to push the lead. The Bobcats traveled on their ensuing possession and Wright dropped in two more free throws to push the lead back to 11.
"The big thing with this team is that they are very good at stopping (opponent's) runs," Frick said. "Benton's a good basketball team and we knew they were going to make some runs. We did a good job of making sure they were not able to string a lot of baskets together."
With less than a minute-and-a-half remaining, the Bobcats made one final push. A bucket brought the lead back under double-digits and the Sabers gave the ball right back with a turnover. Benton then scored again and was fouled on the play.
A missed free throw, though, again proved to be costly for the Bobcats. A make would have made it a two-possession game with still 1:17 to play. Instead, the shot was off the mark and Wright skied in for the rebound.
The senior was ultimately fouled and Wright made both free throws to make it 56-47.
The Bobcats would not score again and two free throws by Steffens in the final minute finished off Central's scoring and set off a huge celebration from both Saber players and fans.
Benton jumped out to an early lead in the game, scoring five of the contest's first seven points (Green had the Sabers' hoop).
Wright tied things up at five with a three-pointer, but the Bobcats scored again to pull back in front.
Green, though, knotted things up again with a hoop inside and then put the Sabers in front with another shot off glass.
Central never trailed again. Lucas Daniels made it 10-7 with a free throw and then gave the Sabers all the momentum heading into the second quarter when he put-back a teammate's miss just before the buzzer sounded to make it a five-point game.
Benton answered back with a three-pointer to start the second stanza, but Daniels scored again for the Sabers and Bauer nailed a pull-up jumper.
The Bobcats answered back with a hoop, but Bauer beat everyone down the floor for a lay-up and it was 18-12 Sabers.
After the two squads traded hoops, Benton made a late push with five-straight points to cut the Sabers' lead to one.
Wright, though, set the stage for a big third quarter by scoring the final points of the first half.
With less than 10 seconds remaining, the senior put up a small jumper. The shot was short, but Wright realized it and cut to the hoop to grab his own miss. Benton was forced to foul and Wright made both free throws to give the Sabers a 22-19 lead going into the break.
The Bobcats pulled within one again to start the third. Wright, though, quickly seized the momentum for Central by converting an old-fashioned three-point play.
Steffens added a free throw of his own and the margin was now five.
Benton stemmed the tide with a three-pointer only to see Wright answer immediately with a big three for the Sabers.
The Bobcats had three different chances to come up with their own response, but all three shots were off the mark and Benton compounded its problems by forgetting Wright in transition.
The senior was more than happy to make the Bobcats pay as he drained his second-straight trey to make the score 32-24 Sabers and force a Benton timeout.
The small break cooled Central's momentum and Benton got its fans back in the game by scoring five-straight points to cut the lead down to three.
Steffens, though, ended the run with a jumper and, moments later, Wright added a bank-shot to put the Sabers in control again.
Benton scored the final points of the quarter, but it was still a five-point game heading to the fourth and the Sabers made sure their advantage held the rest of the way.
Wright ended up scoring 17 of his career-high 24 points in the second half - including 11 in the third quarter alone -to pace the Sabers.
"Christian really stepped up tonight and that's been something the team has been able to count on all year - each game somebody is ready to come through," Frick said. "Christian was one of those guys tonight and so was Marty Green."
Green finished with eight points (six coming in the first half) and was a difference-maker on defense as he helped keep Benton's leading scorer Nate Woeste in check (Woeste, who averages 15.6 points per game, scored 10 points in the game and needed 15 shots to do it).
Steffens joined Wright in double-figures with 12 points, with every one of them coming in the second half. Bauer, meanwhile, chipped in nine and Daniels rounded out the scoring with five.
Now the Sabers' journey rolls on to Des Moines where Central will be making its first appearance in seven years.
And there is still one more big finish left to accomplish.
"We never spoke outright about state, but the players all had the same goal - to win the conference and then after that, go as far as we can," Frick said. "The guys have certainly earned this. I'm proud of them."
For more information on the Sabers' first-round game, Tuesday night, including a closer look at MOC-Floyd Valley, make sure to check out Saturday's Observer.