Naperville Central edges Glenbard West
Julia Benjamin's high school basketball debut didn't get off to an auspicious start.
It sure ended with one.
The Glenbard West freshman guard overcame severe foul trouble to lead a fourth-quarter comeback that nearly turned a blowout loss into an improbable victory Tuesday night.
Benjamin tallied 12 of her 17 points in a 103-second span in the final minutes as the host Hilltoppers cut a 16-point deficit down to one before Naperville Central pulled out a season-opening 59-57 victory.
It was a rally no one saw coming, especially considering Benjamin had sat out much of the first three quarters after picking up three fouls in the first five minutes and her fourth foul early in the third quarter.
"When you get in foul trouble, sometimes that can take you out mentally," Glenbard West coach Kristi Faulkner said. "But she stayed in and was ready to play and not give up.
"When it mattered in clutch time, she showed true guts and was fearless."
The Hilltoppers trailed 56-40 when the 5-foot-6 Benjamin turned a steal into a traditional three-point play with 2:50 remaining.
Sophia Brown followed suit and she and Benjamin quickly threw a scare into the Redhawks. Benjamin buried back-to-back 3-pointers off Brown assists and then Emmie Roberts made two free throws to complete a 14-0 run.
Haley Hayes, who led Naperville Central with 17 points, answered with a layup, but Benjamin drained her fourth 3-pointer with 1:07 left to pull Glenbard West within 57-56.
"I just kind of took the stress and put it down inside me and tried to come back and pull my team out," Benjamin said. "With the shots I was making, it made me feel much better and my bench hyped me up and made it a lot easier.
"Before that I wasn't making the shots that I wanted to be making and then when I made that first shot it lifted me up."
The Redhawks then got a lift from junior guard Ella Burke, who prevented Benjamin from getting another shot off.
"For 28 minutes I'm really happy with how we played and then at the end, some of that is they just made shots," Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. "I don't know what No. 10s name is, but Ella Burke did a great job on her in the last minute to limit her from scoring and actually it was at her suggestion."
Benjamin, who finished with five rebounds and four steals, still had an impact in the final minute, getting an offensive rebound and a steal. But the Hilltoppers missed their last three shots, including a potential go-ahead attempt inside the lane from Kennedy Brandt with five seconds left, before Benjamin fouled out with 3.2 ticks left.
Ella McDonald then split a pair of free throws for Central with 2.1 seconds left and Glenbard West was unable to get a shot off.
"Every point counted tonight," Nussbaum said. "We're real happy to win."
Despite the loss, Faulkner was happy with her team's comeback, citing the play of Benjamin and Brandt, a junior center who tallied 11 of her 13 points after intermission.
"I was really proud of our girls," Faulkner said. "We were down, and to fight back the way they did and resiliency they showed, I was really, really proud of their heart and their effort. They had no quit."
The play of Benjamin was especially encouraging considering her family legacy. She is the second cousin of Maureen Draths, who was the starting center on the Glenbard West team that finished third in the state in 1999.
Faulkner was the star of that team.
"We've seen her play since she was a little one," Faulkner said. "She works really hard.
"She's a great kid with a lot of heart. It's really fun coaching her and knowing she has Maureen as a relative is pretty cool."