The Ell-Saline Cardinals returned to Heart of America League action Tuesday evening in Brookville. It was the first home game in 25 days for the Cardinals, and the home crowd turned out in force, hungry for action and fueled by a doubleheader affair with long-time league rival Bennington. Early on, it looked as if the home faithful would have plenty to cheer about.
Both Ell-Saline and Bennington’s girls’ squads entered play with identical 0-4 HOA league records, each trying to avoid being the lone HOA team without a league win by night’s end. Throughout the first half, the Cardinals were the better team, playing lock-down defense and preventing many second-chance opportunities with solid work on the defensive glass.
The effort held Bennington to just nine first half points. However, the Cardinals were unable to get separation from Bennington despite the stellar defensive work, turning it over 13 times in the first half. Meanwhile, Ell-Saline’s lone senior Lexi Kochanowski, who has emerged in recent weeks as the clear-cut leader of the young Cardinal squad, picked up a second foul with just a minute remaining in the first half. Rather than hitting the bench for the final minute of the half, Kochanowski remained on the floor. With just 13.2 seconds to play before halftime, Kochanowski was ticketed for her third personal foul, which turned out to be a huge factor in the half to come.
All in all, Ell-Saline was in the driver’s seat at halftime, leading 16-9. Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Kochanowski was whistled for her fourth foul, and would be forced to sit for the remainder of the third quarter – forced to watch as the wheels completely fell off for the Cardinals.
Bennington’s full-court pressure proved to be too much for the young Cardinal backcourt to handle, forcing nine third-quarter turnovers and a number of low-percentage shots, leading to a plethora of transition opportunities. By the five-minute mark in the third quarter, the Bulldogs had already eclipsed their scoring output throughout the first two quarters of play. By the end of the quarter, Bennington had outscored Ell-Saline 23-1 throughout the eight minutes of third-quarter action to turn a seven-point halftime deficit into a 15-point advantage, 32-17.
The Bulldogs would score seven more unanswered points before a three-point bucket from Cardinal sophomore Ashton Travis gave Ell-Saline its first field goal of the second half – at the 4:05 mark in the fourth quarter – ended an astonishing 30-1 run out of the locker room for Bennington in an eventual 48-26 Bulldog victory.
With the win, Bennington (9-5, 1-4) broke the tie with Ell-Saline (2-13, 0-5) at the bottom of the HOA standings. Bulldog sophomore Chloe Stanley, the Salina Ortho Player of the Game, led Bennington with 14 points on the night, spearheading the Bulldogs’ third-quarter romp with ten points in the period. Senior Alexis Watson finished the night with eight points, while freshman Peyton Piepho added seven.
Travis led the Cardinal effort with 14 points. No other Ell-Saline Cardinal tallied more than three points on the ballgame.
Bulldog Boys Remain Undefeated in HOA Play
In the nightcap, Bennington senior guard J.J. Allen scored eight of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter, helping the Bulldogs to get separation after an 8-0 Ell-Saline run to close out the second half left the Cardinals trailing by just four points at the break, 27-23.
The Salina Ortho Player of the Game, Allen’s eight third-quarter points fueled the Bulldogs to an 11-6 advantage in the period, giving Bennington a 38-29 lead entering the fourth quarter. Ell-Saline got as close as six early in the fourth, but Allen was able to help keep the Cardinals at arm’s length, knocking down five free throws down the stretch as Bennington pulled away late for a 50-35 win.
In addition to Allen’s 18 points, Bennington (12-2, 5-0) got ten points from 6’10” senior Josh Juenemann. Fellow senior Devin Feil chipped in with seven points in the winning effort.
Ell-Saline (4-11, 1-4) had scoring from eight of the nine players that saw the floor in the contest, however no Cardinal was able to reach double digits in the loss, as sophomore Kaden Griffin led the Cardinal scoring effort with eight points off the bench. Senior starters Hunter Kindlesparger and Nathan Parks each had six points on the night, all coming in the first half.
The Cardinals host bitter league rival Sedgwick on Friday evening in Brookville, while the Bulldogs will return home to Bennington Friday to host the Remington Broncos in HOA play.