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Lady O season ends with loss to Bennington
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Lady O season ends with loss to Bennington

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BEATRICE — It probably did feel like Christmas a little bit for the Bennington girls basketball team Saturday.

For the first time since the holiday tournament, the Class B No. 10 Badgers had all five starters healthy and playing together.

Now they’re heading to Pinnacle Bank Arena.

In a matchup where every second-half possession felt critical, Bennington outlasted No. 6 Beatrice 53-48 in the B-7 district final and punched its ticket to the Class B state tournament for a second straight year.

Junior Abby Boyes, the Badgers’ lead scorer, returned to the lineup for the first time in two weeks. She finished with 14 points and hit three three-pointers in the third quarter.

Junior Taylor Sedlacek had 11 points, including a pair of threes in the first half to help Bennington shake off a slow start. But a big impact came from the Badgers’ two seniors — Maddy Elwood and Katie Dall — who used their voices to keep the team poised in a tight ballgame, coach John O’Connor said.

“Katie is a big leader on the bench and Maddy is a huge leader on the court, and we just kept saying in the huddle, 'Hey, stay calm. We need to focus,'" said Sedlacek, a junior. "That was huge for us through the last 30 seconds."

Beatrice got to within 41-40 on a bucket in traffic from senior Mak Hatcliff with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining.

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But Bennington (14-10) didn’t buckle. It hit 15 of 23 free throws in the fourth quarter. Elwood, who finished with a game-high 15 points, hit four key free throws late.

"I was just thinking that I’ve done this every day in practice," she said. "I shoot free throws every day and this is just another free throw."

The game featured 46 fouls, which tested how Bennington and Beatrice like to play defense.

O’Connor said playing in a physical conference like the Eastern Midlands Conference, which had all six teams in Saturday’s district finals, helped the Badgers persevere Saturday. They also had to overcome losing two post players — juniors Alison Mack and Emma John — to fouls in the fourth quarter.

The Badgers knew they’d be in for a battle against the Lady Orange.

"Everyone’s like, 'Hey, we had a hard EMC conference and we played with everyone in the conference,' and we said we had to show up for this game, for our seniors,” Sedlacek said. "The EMC definitely prepared us up until now."

O’Connor said the lineup was fluid all season as players battled illnesses and injuries. But that also helped the Badgers.

"We had quite a few girls step up," Elwood said. "We had some young girls make big plays and that family aspect of everyone is rooting for each other and we had each other’s backs."

Hatcliff had 13 points for Beatrice, which closed its season at 13-5. Beatrice coach Jalen Weeks said he was proud of his team, including the six seniors.

"Their leadership and impact on our program has really put us at another step forward and can’t thank them enough," Weeks said. "Those seniors showed our underclassmen what leadership is about and hopefully it can help them do some of those things to get us back to the state tournament next year."

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