High school girls basketball: Benton cruises into 5A state championship game

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For the second straight year, the Benton Lady Tigers will be playing for a state championship,

Benton, the No. 2 seed, routed No. 19 Natchitoches Central 63-39 in the Class 5A semifinals Tuesday night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls’ Marsh Madness state tournament at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles.

The Lady Tigers (28-5) play No. 1 Ouachita Parish (32-6) in the 5A championship game at 8 p.m. Friday. The Lady Lions defeated No. 5 Ponchatoula 64-60 in overtime in the other semifinal.

Benton and Ouachita Parish split games in the regular season. Benton won 57-50 in the Battle on the Hardwood Classic on Nov. 22 in the Lady Tigers’ second game of the season. The Lady Lions won 62-52 in the championship game of Benton’s tournament on Dec. 14.

Last year, Benton reached the Class 4A state championship game, losing to Warren Easton. Benton head coach Mary Ward downplayed any significance of making it back to the title game in a higher class.

Last season, Benton defeated several of the top 5A teams in the state in the regular season, including eventual champion Captain Shreve.

Benton and Natchitoches Central (18-13) split their District 1-5A games in the regular season. The Lady Tigers won 60-56 on Jan. 14 in Natchitoches and the Lady Tigers won 61-37 on Feb. 27 in Benton.

In the first game, the Lady Chiefs’ J’unti Franklin and Nia Hardison scored 23 and 20 points, respectively. Neither played in the second.

Both teams were at full strength Tuesday.

“I think tonight we were a little bit more focused than last time when we played them at their place,” Ward said. “The last time we played them at our place they were without their two best players so that wasn’t a really good comparison of what we were going to see tonight.

“I just think right now we’re playing some really good basketball and I think the girls are really focused and they kind of executed our game plan. And so I’m very happy with what they did tonight.”

Ward said Benton hasn’t played man-to-man defense a lot this season, but she decided to try it Tuesday. She had Jada Anderson guard Franklin and Qua Chambers guard Hardison. Freshman Marissa Schoth guarded the Lady Chiefs’ other standout, Abrionna Kennedy.

Franklin scored 22 points, but they came on 27 shots. She hit nine of them. Hardison scored seven and Kennedy had three.

“They were the three we were really worried about,” Ward said. “I think we haven’t played a whole lot of man-to-man but we were able to do that tonight and I think it really paid off.”

Chambers and Anderson did work on both ends of the the court. Chambers scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Anderson had 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Alisa Harris had eight points. Riley Grace Stanford hit two 3-pointers and had seven points. Schoth had six points and four rebounds. Makaila Antwine had six rebounds.

Benton led 14-8 after the first quarter. Natchitoches Central hit just 2-of-11 from the field in the second. The Lady Tigers took advantage with a 17-5 run for a 31-13 halftime lead.

There was more of the same in the third quarter and Benton led 52-25 going into the fourth.