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The photographer was down and out, flat on his backside.
Samantha Rodriguez had hit the deck hard, too. The sophomore forward from Zion-Benton crashed into the photographer as she was hustling toward the sideline for a loose ball. It wasn't a pretty sight, for either the photographer or Rodriguez. Both looked worse for the wear.
In fact, it took a moment or two for Rodriguez to get up. Eventually she ran back down to the other end of the court to rejoin the action in Monday's Class 4A sectional semifinal against Stevenson at Palatine High School. But as soon as a whistle blew and there was a break in the action, Rodriguez started grimacing and hobbled over to her bench.
"I realized that my leg was actually hurting bad, really bad," Rodriguez said. "But I also didn't want to stay out of the game. I knew I could worry about my leg later."
More pressing to Rodriguez was her desire to help Zion-Benton fend off a pesky Stevenson team that was systematically chipping away at its once comfy lead.
Rodriguez's crash with the photographer drew no blood, but ironically, she was the one to stop the bleeding for the Zee-Bees, who watched a 14-point early fourth-quarter lead get shaved down to just 3 points with 1:30 remaining. Even on her bad leg, and less than minute after her encounter with the photographer, Rodriguez slashed to the basket for a layup that pushed the lead back up to 5 points, cut Stevenson's newfound confidence off at the knees and gave Zion-Benton just enough momentum to close out a 53-46 victory.
For the second year in a row, Zion-Benton is surging at just the right time. The eighth-seeded Zee-Bees, who move to 21-8, finished as the Class 4A state runner-up last year after an improbable run in which they defeated unbeaten Libertyville in the sectional title game.
Zion-Benton had lost to Libertyville three times during the regular season.
Now, in a bit of déjà vu, Zion-Benton is exacting more revenge. The Zee-Bees lost to Stevenson twice during the regular season this year, but, just like with Libertyville last year, they managed to pick off the Patriots when it mattered most.
Fourth-seeded Stevenson closes out its season with a 23-8 record.
"It's a good feeling, just like last year, how we went through a lot of ups and downs but found a way to put it all together in the end," said Zion-Benton senior forward Octavia Crump, who led all scorers with a game-high 20 points, scoring many of those points on determined drives to the basket. "We lost to Stevenson twice in conference (North Suburban Conference Lake Division play), but we beat them when it really counted, just like we did last year with Libertyville."
The Zee-Bees will now face another underdog team that is surging at the right time. No. 14 Wheeling defeated Warren in the other semifinal at Palatine. Zion-Benton and Wheeling will face off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday for the right to advance to the supersectional at Stevenson.
"Maybe we should never have winning conference as a goal again," Zion-Benton coach Tanya Johnson laughed. "Because we haven't gotten it done the last two years, but then we wind up playing our best basketball at this time of year.
"I like the underdog role. It's working for us."
A quick start against Stevenson worked, too.
Zion-Benton set the tone early, rushing off to a 17-8 lead by the end of the first quarter, thanks to 7 quick points by Rodriguez. Rodriguez had 13 points in the first half and finished with 18 points on the game.
"We've had some slow starts this year so we really talked a lot about how we had to come out and play hard right away, especially with keeping up our defensive intensity right from the start," Rodriguez said. "We talked about leaving all our energy on the floor. We pressured (Stevenson) a lot. We were right in their face."
The Patriots seemed to feel the pressure more often than not and didn't shoot the ball as well as they usually do.
"We had some uncharacteristic turnovers early, we didn't shoot the ball very well and it didn't get any better as the game went on," Stevenson coach Tom Dineen said. "They were much more aggressive than we were.
"It's a very disappointing end to a very good season. We're a better team than what we showed this evening."
Stevenson hit only 37 percent of its second-half shots and only Katie Batman (16 points) scored more than 8 points on the night. She had 11 points in the second half and was instrumental in the Patriots' big fourth-quarter rally.
"This is even harder knowing that we had (beaten Zion-Benton twice already this season)," Batman said. "They just did some different things than last time. They had some players really step up and play well.
"We never gave up or hung our heads and we kept chopping away at their lead. We all thought we could come back and send it into overtime or something, but we could never really get that last push."