By Nathan Giese
OF THE Public Opinion
WATERTOWN — Small plays turned into big moments down the stretch, and it was the senior leadership for fifth-seeded Castlewood that carried the biggest weight.
With 12th-seeded De Smet refusing to go away without a fight, the Warriors relied on timely possessions from Regan Benike and Alayna Benike to send the Warriors back to the state Class B tournament for the first time since 2010 with a 47-44 victory in the Round of 16 on Thursday in the Watertown Civic Arena.
“We still struggled with our free throws but I saw the leadership in the my seniors Regan, Abbey (Strait) and Morgan (Anderson),” said Castlewood head coach Leslie Tvedt. “Yelling, talking to each other out on the floor; that’s what carried us to this win. For these girls that have worked so hard all year, it’s a really good feeling.”
After De Smet (17-6 overall) cut a once 13-point Castlewood lead down to four with about two minutes left in regulation, the Warriors knew the Bulldogs had to foul. And they did foul, several times over a 40-second span, to send Alayna Benike to the free throw line.
The freshman Benike missed the front end of a one-and-one only for Regan, her senior sister, to gather the offensive rebound and be sent to the line. She made the first and missed the second. This time, it was Alayna that nabbed the o-board before dishing it out to Strait, who was promptly fouled.
Strait nailed both shots to extend the lead to 45-38 with 34.7 on the clock.
On the other end of the court, Raegan Burke sank a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to four and less than 30 seconds to play.
De Smet once again had to foul, but the Warriors (20-2) missed both shots, allowing Rynn Osthus to grab the ball, sprint down the court and convert a difficult layup plus the foul call. Osthus nailed the free throw, and suddenly it was a one-point game.
“It’s two teams that know each other, we fight it out every time we play each other,” said De Smet head coach Dough Osthus. “I was really proud of our effort tonight. There was a lot of teams that would just go away after a first half like we had and they were right in it with a chance to win in the end.”
Strait went back to the line and hit 1 of 2 free throws with 12.6 seconds remaining. On their offensive possession, the Bulldogs looked to get a clean look at a 3, but the Warriors closed out on their shooters, forcing De Smet to look for the tie.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, a mad scramble for the ball went out of the bounds, possession to Castlewood, and they were out of time.
“We knew it was going to be really hard,” said Regan Benike. “We worked really hard all week to shut their 3-point shooters down. Obviously, they were pretty evident in the game but we did our best. We knew it was going to come down to the wire. Luckily we came out on top.”
Normally a pretty solid 3-point shooting team itself, Castlewood went cold from beyond the arc in front of a packed Civic Arena crowd. The Warriors went just 2-of-15 from distance but both came in critical situations.
After De Smet whittled a 26-16 halftime deficit to one point, Strait sank a 3 to close out the third quarter. The other came early in the fourth quarter when Regan, facing a double team in the post, kicked out to Alayna who drained the jumper.
“They handled it well,” Tvedt said of her team. “De Smet’s a great team and they were on from the 3-point line. I’m just proud of my girls for the way they handled it.”
Playing without leading rebounder and interior presence Kristen Poppen, the Bulldogs used the 3 to get back into the game, then attacked the paint to keep things interesting in the fourth quarter. De Smet hit 16 shots in the game, nine of which came behind the arc.
“We had a lot better ball movement in the second half, went in and out, shooters spotted up so we could get our feet set and that helped us get right where we needed to be,” said Osthus. “(Castlewood) did a nice job defending the 3-point line at the end. We just couldn’t quite convert. Hats off to them. They’re a great basketball team. We battled the best we could.” Rynn Osthus led all scorers with 18 points in the game for De Smet. Autumn Wilkinson and Kenzie Blue each added nine points. Gianna Janssen and Raegan Burke had seven rebounds apiece.
“It’s unfortunate in games like this that we lose a couple of seniors but the biggest thing is to love them tonight and move on tomorrow,” said Doug Osthus.
Regan Benike paced Castlewood with 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Strait tallied 14 points. Alayna Benike contributed 13 points, eight rebounds and six steals.
In a chaotic game between two Lake Central Conference foes, shooting from the 3-point and free-throw lines were key components, but it was being in the right place at the right time that lifted the Warriors back to state.
“We are all about the fundamentals,” said Regan Benike. “All the little things take up a lot of our practice. That’s definitely something we pride ourselves on. Credit to them, but we worked hard on our defense and got it done.”
Castlewood 18 26 31 47
De Smet 10 16 27 44
CASTLEWOOD: Regan Benike 7 2-3 16, Alayna Benike 4 4-8 13, Darah DeKam 2 0-0 4, Abbey Strait 5 3-4 14. Totals 18 9-15 47
DE SMET: Gianna Janssen 1 0-0 2, Rynn Osthus 7 1-3 18, Raegan Burke 2 0-0 5, Kenzie Blue 3 1-1 9, Autumn Wilkinson 3 0-2 9, Kennadi Bucholz 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 3-8 44.
Three-point goals — Castlewood 2 (Strait, A. Benike), De Smet 9 (Osthus 3, Wilkinson 3, Blue 2, Burke). Total fouls — Castlewood 11, De Smet 17. Fouled out — De Smet (Wilkinson). FG shooting — Castlewood 18-50 (36 percent), De Smet 16-43 (37 percent). Rebounds — Castlewood 26 (R. Benike 9, A. Benike 8, DeKam 6), De Smet 28 (Janssen 7, Burke 7). Turnovers — Castlewood 13, De Smet 19.
NATHAN GIESE/WATERTOWN PUBLIC OPINION
De Smet’s Kenzie Blue looks to pass with Castlewood’s Regan Benike defending during their Class B Round of 16 game at the Civic Arena on Thursday.