PREPS: Benson battles its way into state title game
Pushed by the doubts of others — perceived or real — the Benson Techsters never once doubted themselves throughout Friday's girls basketball Class 6A semifinal with Beaverton.
Not when the Beavers opened up leads of nine or 10 points.
Not when chances to score off steals failed to drop.
And certainly not when Beaverton's Sydney Erikstrup was shooting two free throws with six seconds left and the game tied.
In the Benson huddle, coach Eric Knox told his team exactly what was going to happen.
"I said, 'We're going to win this game,'" Knox said. "'Don't you panic. She's going to miss one of them. Tayler (Lyday), get the ball and go full length of the court and go get a bucket.'"
That is exactly what happened as Lyday capped a brilliant 34-point afternoon at Chiles Center by dribbling end to end for the game-winning layup.
Thanks to a 54-53 outcome that might have seemed improbable to many outside the Benson program, the seventh-seeded Techsters (21-5) will play at 3:15 p.m. Saturday for the state title. Top-ranked Southridge (25-1) will present a significant challenge, but Benson is all about responding to challenges.
"Coach was telling us the whole game to just keep pushing, don't give up, we're going to win this game. And everyone kept that in their mind," Lyday said. "That's how we kept our çomposure. That's how we executed and got the buckets we needed."
Plenty of those buckets came through Lyday, who was pretty much unstoppable around the basket. The 6-1 junior was 12 for 17 from the floor and made 10 of 16 free throws in her career-high effort.
But, as Lyday quickly pointed out, she wasn't the only hero.
Trailing by nine points as time ran down in the third quarter, Ciera Ellington drained a 3-pointer from in front of the Benson bench. Those were her only points of the game.
"My teammates and coach told me to shoot it, so I shot it," said Ellington, who is playing with a sore hamstring. "I was missing all night, but it went in and I felt like, 'OK, I can calm down. I can breathe.'"
When Makenzy Porter swished a 3 on the first fourth-quarter possession, the margin was three points and the stage was set for a breathless finish.
Benson, which never led by more than one point, took a 48-47 lead on a Lyday drive with 2:28 left. Beaverton's Alexa Borter hit a 3 and Sydney Ekstrup scored a layup to put the Beavers up 52-48 with 52 seconds remaining.
Lyday was fouled inside and hit the first of two free throws with 34 seconds left. She missed the second, but Benson's Aujay Yoakum grabbed the rebound and Porter made a 3 to tie the game with 30 seconds left.
Beaverton's Erikstrum — who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds — attacked the basket and was fouled with 6.1 seconds on the clock. She missed the first, made the second.
Then Lyday did her thing.
"Coach told me in the huddle, 'When you get the ball, push it. Don't stop. Don't hesitate, or you will get fouled,'" Lyday said. "I just put my head down and went, and I was at the hoop and put it in."
Beaverton — which will play West Linn for third place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday — led by as many as nine points in the first half, outrebounding Benson, 16-7, and collecting 10 second-chance points.
But the Techsers hung in despite guards Porter and Ludia Lukeji both picking up their third foul by the middle of the second quarter. Porter stayed on the floor.
"I understand that I need to be on the floor, Fouling is always a hard thing for me. I'm an aggressive player," Porter said. "(Knox) just told me to be a bulldog but not too much of a bulldog."
Porter played all 32 minutes and did not pick up another foul, finishing with nine points.
Lyday was a handful inside from the start. She scored all 10 Benson points in the first quarter and nine more in the second. That effort countered the six Beavers who scored in the first half.
Benson could have been in better shape at halftime if not for several close-range misses and a 10-second period when Beaverton (23-3) made two steals in a six-point burst.
But every time the game started to slip Beaverton's direction, Benson responded.
"When we were on the ropes and our legs were wobbling, we fought back and got ourselves back in the game," said a smiling Knox.
"There wasn't anything at stake for us," the coach insisted. "We already got farther than anybody ever expected. So we're playing loose. We're having fun. I knew we were going to come back. Our kids play composed, and we're fighters."