East Juniata dispatched by Benton in D4

MONTOURSVILLE – No. 7 East Juniata was able to keep it close early due to a pair of first quarter threes, but the game got out of hand quickly in the second quarter, as No. 2 Benton pulled away for a 47-17 win in the quarterfinals of the District 4 Class A girls basketball tournament Friday night.

East Juniata (12-10) seemed to be in decent shape entering the second quarter, trailing by only five with Benton’s senior Justine Seely already sentenced to the bench with foul trouble. Also helpful for the Tigers was that Cassidy Dillman came off the bench to have a big first quarter for the underdogs.

With East Juniata trailing 12-3 with less than three minutes left in the opening quarter, Dillman found her stroke, hitting two from beyond the arc to get her team to within three. Benton went on to make a pair of free throws before the end of the quarter, but East Juniata was still very much alive.

It was then that another of Benton’s senior leaders, Casey Gavin, showed that Benton (18-5) is not a one-woman team.

Early in the second quarter, with Seely on the bench, Gavin possessed the ball for Benton outside the arc. When East Juniata failed to come all the way out to defend her, Gavin showed that she has plenty of range, pulling up for a three on the right wing from NBA range that went in clean.

Gavin wasn’t done there, as she hit another pair of threes from essentially the exact same spot less than two minutes into the quarter. Suddenly, Benton was out to a 23-9 lead, and the rout was on.

“We’re seniors, we’re captains, we have experience, and (Benton coach Harry Schlichter) just puts all his trust in us to go out there and get it done, do what we do,” Gavin said, talking about her coach’s trust in her and her fellow seniors to make plays.

With a lead firmly in hand, Benton turned to Seely to salt the game away. Seely ended the game with 25 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks and six steals.

“We knew Justine was a fantastic player, we knew we were gonna have a hard time with her,” East Juniata coach Travis Quici said.

As Seely and the rest of her Benton teammates kept scoring, East Juniata simply could not buy a basket. After scoring nine points in the opening quarter, it only scored a combined eight the rest of the way.

While Benton made plenty of plays to earn the win, East Juniata didn’t do itself many favors, as it turned the ball over 27 times. This number was inflated by Benton’s full-court pressure defense. Even when Benton didn’t force a turnover early in the possession, East Juniata struggled to get its half-court offense set up, as Benton constantly threw different looks at its opponent.

“I tell the girls, we don’t necessarily want to get a turnover out of it,” Schlichter said. “If we do that’s wonderful, but it gets them out of rhythm, it makes them do something different every time.

“They have to think. That’s the biggest thing, we try to make the other team think, we try to make them make a play, and tonight, obviously, they weren’t able to.”

While Benton was clearly the better team, matters were not helped by East Juniata’s considerable injury woes. With many players either missing or limited, there just was not enough fire power available to make it a game.

“(Injuries) killed us this year,” Quici said. “The list just goes on and on and on. Not to make excuses, the girls stepped up and they battled, they did the best that they could do, it just wasn’t enough tonight.”

East Juniata was led by Dillman’s six points, while senior Katrina Gelnett added five in her final varsity appearance.