JOHNSONBURG – Johnsonburg girls basketball used timely baskets and strong interior play for a 31-27 victory over St. Marys Wednesday night at Johnsonburg Area High School.
With three minutes left in regulation, the teams were tied at 24. Johnsonburg forward Chelsea Benson hit a short inside shot to put the Ramettes ahead 26-24 at the 2:34 mark. St. Marys' next possession saw Kiana Hoohuli hit a 3-pointer to give St. Marys a 27-26 lead with two minutes left. Benson would come back and hit a shot with 1:14 left to give the Ramettes a 1-point lead, she followed with a transition layup after a steal to put Johnsonburg up by three. Johnsonburg coach Mike Zilkofski said a coaching adjustment at halftime led to Benson being able to make that critical shot.
"I told her at halftime that Kiana Hoohuli is timing your shot and blocking it," Zilkofski said. "All you have to do is stop, get her in the air and then put it up. She did that and that put us up by three. These girls are improving after every game. In the first half, she just blocked everything because she was timing her shot."
St. Marys was unable to get a good look at the basket and turned the ball over to the Ramettes. Rhianon Fowler initially missed two free throws but Johnsonburg was able to secure the rebound with two seconds left. Fowler hit 1-of-2 to seal the game for the Ramettes.
Benson finished with 18 points to lead all scorers.
"They played their hearts out," Zilkofski said. "It's all about finishing. We finished the game. I've been preaching all year, we have to finish against good teams. St. Marys is a good team, a class AAA school. They did finish, they hit their foul shots at the end and that's what it's about. That's the blueprint for a basketball game, get the lead in the fourth quarter, hold the ball, win it at the foul line."
Benson opened the game with a 2-point field goal just under one minute into the game for the Ramettes before Jenna Anderson drained a trey to put the Lady Dutch on the board. After Benson and Hoohuli traded baskets, St. Marys went on to score the next eight points and held a 13-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. Hoohuli started the 8-0 run with a 3-pointer, that was followed by a Becky Krieg field goal and another Hoohuli trey.
Brittany Watts would break the Ramettes' scoring drought of over six minutes early in the second quarter with an inside shot off an assist from Benson. Zilkofski said Benson did a good job of picking up her play to help Watts, who finished with four points.
"Brittany had an off night, her shots just weren't falling," Zilkofski said. "She had a bunch of bunny shots that just wouldn't fall for her and Chelsea picked it up. That's why it's a team game. Somebody else has to pick it up. Chelsea Benson, for being a sophomore, she did a heck of a job."
Kiana Myers added a field goal to draw within five at 13-8. DeAnna Yost would score St. Marys' only points of the third quarter near the midway point. Benson hit a free throw and Myers added two points as the Ramettes were within four at 15-11. Benson nailed two free throws at the half as St. Marys took a 15-13 lead into halftime.
"We told them at halftime to be patient in the second half. We were down two at halftime," Zilkofski said. "I said 'Just be patient.' I told Rhianon (Fowler) to put a little more pressure on the point guard. We took (Adair) Gennocro out of the game. I put Danie (Dwyer) on her, she did a heck of a job on her, took her right out of the game."
St. Marys struggled with foul trouble from Gennocro and Anderson, limiting their time on the court and productivity. Gennocro was held scoreless, Anderson had eight points.
"She (Gennocro) played all game with foul trouble," coach Leona Hoohuli said. "It changes things for our team. Turnovers again keep haunting us. The girls did a nice job in the first half, we played well. In the second half, we just couldn't take care of the basketball."
Benson would tie the game with two free throws to start the quarter, she finished 8-for-10 from the foul line. St. Marys broke its own offensive drought of over four minutes as Anderson would hit a 3-pointer. She added two from the free throw line to give St. Marys a 20-15 lead with 4:24 left in the third quarter. At 21-16, Benson hit two more from the line to draw the Ramettes within three, Johnsonburg trailed 21-18 at the end of the third quarter.
Yost made a basket with around 6:20 left in the fourth quarter to extend the St. Marys lead to 23-18. Danie Dwyer would hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession for Johnsonburg to draw the Ramettes within two. A Fowler free throw would make it a 1-point game and a Benson field goal had Johnsonburg up 24-23 with five minutes left. Hoohuli hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to tie the game at 24 and set up the game's final moments.
Johnsonburg (13-9) will next play in the District 9 Class A playoffs next week with information to be announced.
"We had two losses in a row. You don't want to go into the playoffs on a losing streak," Zilkofski said. "We started our season with a win against St. Marys and ended the season with a win against St. Marys. To play a class AAA team and head into the playoffs, the momentum gives the girls that much more confidence."
St. Marys (9-12) is scheduled to host Ridgway (1-20) on Friday night. Junior varsity action is set for 6 p.m. with the varsity game to follow.
"The girls worked hard and I thought they played well even with Adair and Jenna getting into foul trouble early on," coach Hoohuli said. "I was able to pull girls off the bench and they were able to step up for us. We just couldn't get over that edge."