CLASS B STATE TOURNAMENT AT THE FARGODOME: Benson County uses free-throw line to advance to fifth-place game

FARGO – Benson County didn’t give much credence to its second-half cushion.

The Wildcats were all too aware of New Town’s ability to score in flurries and weren’t about to get cozy with a 13-point lead in a Class B state consolation game on Friday.

When New Town’s run did come, though, senior-laden Benson County wasn’t rattled and held off the Eagles 65-57 at the Fargodome to advance to today’s fifth-place game against Beach at 3 p.m.

Second-ranked New Town cut Benson County’s lead to just a bucket with under three minutes left, but the Wildcats – who shot 27 of of 36 from the free-throw line – got the stops they needed and connected at the stripe.

“I have six seniors playing, and they keep their composure and understand what they have to do,” Benson County coach Kent Neppl said. “They knew if they were patient they would get what they wanted.”

Six-foot senior Becca Eberle finished with a team-high 19 points for Benson County and ripped down eight rebounds. She was 9-of-10 at the line and went 4-of-5 down the stretch.

A night after taking top-ranked Bishop Ryan to the wire, the Wildcats made getting to the free-throw line a point of emphasis.

New Town gave Thompson 40 free-throw attempts after 25 fouls in the quarterfinal meeting on Thursday, so Benson County figured it would go right at the Eagles.

“We needed to match their runs, which we did,” Neppl said. “We got them in foul trouble, but we still had trouble finishing them off. They’re a good team. We were just able to finish at the line.”

New Town, paced by Gabby Wilkinson’s 19 points and nine rebounds, came out sluggish at the game’s onset and picked up on the foul spree it started the night before.

But the Eagles, who never led, found themselves within a possession of the Wildcats before Eberle’s final three buckets of the half gave her team a 33-25 lead at intermission.

“We pulled that emotion from the (Bishop Ryan) loss and put it into this game,” Eberle said. “Coach made some great changes when (New Town) went on runs. We’re lucky to have a coach like him.”

Katelynn Engh (17 points) spearheaded a 7-2 run to start the half for Benson County, hitting a three to begin the stanza, which led to her club’s biggest lead.

Engh was 4-of-6 from 3-point range, forcing New Town to guard the perimeter as well as the Wildcats’ sizable post game.

“They’re a great team with a nice guard-post combo,” New Town coach Orville Drosdal said. “We just dug ourselves a hole. We had tired legs early.”

For a one-minute stretch, though, New Town showed how dangerous it could be.

The Eagles went on a 9-1 run to make it a 52-50 contest, but Engh answered with a 3-pointer to douse the run.

“We did a nice job of battling back,” Drosdal said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Taylor McGrady (17 points) and Jaye Two Bears (12 points) also reached double figured for New Town, which faces Grant County today at 1 p.m. in the seventh-place game.

New Town went 0-3 in last year’s state tournament and is looking to avoid the same fate.

“We don’t want to finish eighth,” Drosdal said. “Grant County has struggled and is going to be hungry, so we’re going to have to be ready.”