BELMONT — Senior forward Briana Ernst dropped in a career-high 32 points to send the Belmont Braves girls’ basketball team into the holiday break riding a four-game winning streak following an impressive 66-55 Six Rivers West victory over the Benton Zephyrs at BHS on Friday, Dec. 22.
Ernst scored 17 of her 32 points in the opening half to lead the Lady Braves (5-4 overall, 3-1 SRW) out to a 39-18 halftime advantage, and she added seven of her 15 second-half points in the final 1:45 of the game to hold off a furious rally by the Zephyrs (5-3, 1-3).
“We had a great start tonight. I told the girls in practice on Wednesday to start getting mentally ready for the game because the team that wanted to be here the most was going to win the game,” said Belmont head coach Alan Seabrooke. “In the first half, I felt like we played with more energy and more intensity than we have all year.”
Ernst, a 5’11” forward, poured in 17 of her points in the first half and senior Kassandra Palzkill, a 5’10” forward, added 10 points as the Braves (5-4, 3-1) dominated the lane on their way to a 39-18 halftime lead.
“Those two girls are tough inside and they took it to us. That’s a credit to them,” commented Bent head coach TimHendricks.
Belmont used an early 18-5 scoring burst to build a 20-7 lead, and then closed the half on a 13-4 run to take a 21-point advantage into the intermission.
“They did a good job of attacking Benton. They are only playing about five players, so they don’t want to get into foul trouble. We took advantage of that in the first half. Benton made it a little harder for us in the lane in the second half,” explained Seabrooke.
A basket by Palzkill to start off the second half gave Belmont its largest lead of the night at 41-18, but the Zephyrs weren’t about to go away without a fight.
Benton picked up the intensity on both ends of the floor and quickly started to chisel away at the Braves’ lead. A 30-12 scoring spurt spearheaded by Lawrence trimmed the 23-point deficit down to five at 53-48 with exactly five minutes to play.
All five Benton starters scored during the run led by Lawrence, who converted three three-point plays along with two 3-pointers and a breakaway layup off a steal to account for 17 of the team’s 30 points.
“We knew they were going to come back. Lawrence is just too good a player to not let that happen for a whole game,” Seabrooke stated. “We were kind of prepared for an ugly second half, but we did a good job of finishing the game.”
The Zephyrs were still within five with just over two minutes remaining, but a putback by Ernst following a missed free throw pushed the cushion back to seven at 58-51. Then, the Braves connected on eight of their 10 free throw attempts in the final minute, 20 seconds to seal their fourth consecutive victory.
“We’ve kind of struggled with our free throws, but at the end of games we’ve been clutch and made them,” noted Seabrook.
Ernst sank 5-of-6 foul shots in that final stretch on her way to her game-high 32 points.
Palzkill chipped in with 16 points, while junior guard Abby Althaus added six points for the Braves.
Lawrence tossed in 21 of her team-high 25 points in the second half to lead the furious rally by the Zephyrs. Shay Soppe and Alexis Redfearn scored eight points apiece for the Zephyrs, while sisters Sophie and Maggie Dougherty each netted six points.
At Cassville, on Tuesday, Dec. 19, Kassandra Palzkill and Briana Ernst scored 11 points apiece to carry the visiting Braves over the Comets, 45-28, in Six Rivers West action.
Belmont held a 23-12 advantage at the intermission, and then went on to outscore the Comets (1-7, 0-4) in the second half, 22-16, to run away with a 17-point decision.
Junior Elsie de Haan chipped in with seven points, while junior guard Sadie Willborn and Abby Althaus added five points apiece for the Braves.
Madelyn Nix had 12 points and Paige Johll netted 11 for Cassville.
Belmont returns to Six Rivers West action with a key game at Shullsburg on Thursday, Jan. 4.
“We started off 0-3. Some of that was the personnel, not having enough kids out that first week,” Seabrooke said. “I think the kids are starting to gel a little bit and they’re starting to play better. We’re excited to get back at it after the break.”
Benton……….. 18 37 – 55
Belmont……… 39 27 – 66
Benton – Maggie Dougherty 6, Taylor Mowry 2, Emma Lawrence 25, Sophie Dougherty 6, Alexis Redfearn 8, Shay Soppe 8. Totals – 18 13-20 55.
Belmont – Abby Althaus 6, Elsie de Haan 3, Nicole Knebel 5, Kassandra Palzkill 16, Briana Ernst 32, Callie Wiegel 2, Chelsey Douglas 2. Totals – 26 12-22 66.
3-point goals– BEN 6 (M.Dougherty 1, Lawrence 2, S. Dougherty 1, Redfearn 2), BEL 2 (Althaus 1, de Haan 1). Total fouls– BEN 16, BEL 21. Fouled out– BEN: Lawrence, BEL: Knebel.
Belmont……….. 23 22 – 45
Cassville…….... 12 16 – 28
Belmont – Abby Althaus 5,Elsie de Haan 7, Nicole Knebel 2, Kassandra Palzkill 11, Briana Ernst 11, Sadie Willborn 5, Chelsey Douglas 4. Totals – 20 2-9 48.
Cassville– Kartman 3, Nix 12, Reynolds 2, Johll 11. Totals – 9 7-18 28.
3-point goals– B 3 (Althaus 1, de Haan 1, Willborn 1), C 3 (Johll 3). Total fouls– B 17, C 12. Fouled out– B: Palzkill.