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Benton's tourney run halted at Southwestern
Haffele scores career-high 24 points in first round win over Belmont
Benton junior guard Chad Haffele (#2) knocked down six 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 24 points to lead the host Zephyrs over Belmont, 65-54, in a WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal game at BHS on Tuesday, March 1. (Photo by Kyle Kern, Benton School District)

EDITOR'S NOTE: A shorter version of this story appeared in this week's Tri-County Press. Here is the full-length version.

HAZEL GREEN — Senior forward Nate Reiff poured in a game-high 22 points and senior guard Peerson Kephart added 20 points to lead the #3-seeded Southwestern Wildcats over the #6-seeded Benton Zephyrs, 71–39, in a WIAA Division 5 regional semifinal boys’ basketball game at SHS on Friday, March 4.

The Wildcats (19–8 overall) pounced out to a 33–20 lead in the half, and then doubled up the Zephyrs (15–11) in the second half, 38–19, to run away with their second win over Benton this season.

“I thought we put together a great first half. We moved the ball well and made shots. Southwestern did a great job forcing turnovers and out-rebounding us. When our shots didn’t fall in the second half, they were able to really pull away and build momentum. They are a great team and Clint (Nemitz) has done an amazing job with them. I think they are a state caliber team this year,” said Benton head coach David Neis.

Junior Rex Blaine scored a team-high 13 points to extend his single-season school scoring record to 524 points. Blaine passed head coach David Neis’ previous record of 507 points during Tuesday’s playoff win over Belmont.

Juniors Nate Lawrence and Nathan Keleher chipped in with six points apiece for the Zephyrs.

Anthony Martin netted 11 points and Jace Mess scored seven for the Wildcats, who advanced to capture the regional championship title with a 74–61 victory over #7-seeded Cassville back at SHS on Saturday evening.

Playing in their final prep game for the Zephyrs were seniors Jackson Klang, Roberto Salpietra and Antonin Ader. 

“Jackson will hold a spot in my heart as one of my favorite kids to coach. He showed up on time every day. He worked extremely hard, not just in practice but in the weight room as well. It takes a special kid these days to go out for a sport and know you may not get a bunch of playing time. It didn’t matter to Jack. He gave his best day in and day out. He is a great teammate. I respect the hell out of him. I’m very proud to have coached such a good kid,” commented Neis.

At Benton, on Tuesday, March 1, the #6-seeded Zephyrs used a 40–29 second-half scoring advantage to rally past the #11-seeded Belmont Braves, 65–54, in a see-saw WIAA Division 5 regional quarterfinal clash.

“Our win over Belmont was a bit sluggish. I credit Coach Austin and his players for that as they played extremely hard and really took it to us. Luckily for us we were able to go on a couple runs late and came out with the win,” Coach Neis noted. 

Belmont (8–17 overall) held an 18–8 advantage midway through the first half, but the Zephyrs charged back with a 17–4 run to shoot into the lead at 25–22. A late trey by T. Palzkill deadlocked the score at 25 all at the intermission 

The lead swapped hands six times over the first eight minutes of the second half until a slam dunk and an and-one free throw by junior Rex Blaine put the Zephyrs ahead to stay at 37–34. A short time later junior Chad Haffele hit back-to-back 3s to kick off a 12–5 run that put Benton in front 53–45 with around three minute to play.

Senior Waylon Palzkill got Belmont back within six with a basket with 1:20 left, but the Zephyrs pulled away from there converting 10-of-12 free throw attempts over the final 75 seconds of the game to hang on for their third win over the Braves this season and the 13th consecutive victory over Belmont since 2016.

The Zephyrs finished the night connecting on 18 of their 22 foul shots, while the Braves went 9-of-14 at the stripe.

Haffele sank six 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 24 points to lead all scorers. 

Junior Nathan Keleher went 7-for-7 from the foul stripe on his way to matching his career-high with 17 points, while R. Blaine chipped in with 14 points for the hosts.

“I think our season as a whole was okay. I think my guys have more in them than they displayed this year. Hopefully, a tough off season and some hard work will put these fellas in a position to a championship caliber team next season,” stated Neis. 

W. Palzkill ended the night with a team-high 19 points. Senior Ty Palzkill followed with 15 points and senior Tyler Simmons swished in two treys on his way to 12 points for the Braves. 

Benton………….... 20    19 – 39
Southwestern… 33    38 – 71
Benton– Chad Haffele 3, Luke Jansen 4, Antonin Ader 3, Nate Lawrence 6, Eli Blaine 3, Jackson Klang 1, Nathan Keleher 6, Rex Blaine 13. Totals – 15  3-8  39.
Southwestern – Peerson Kephart 20, Landon Rogers 3, Mason Kaiser 1, Gavin Jochum 2, Bryce Reese 2, Jace Mess 7, Colson Splinter 2, Tyler Brotzman 1, Nate Reiff 22, Anthony Martin 11. Totals – 26  13-22  71.
3-point goals– B 4 (Haffele 1, Ader 1, R. Blaine 2), S 7 (Kephart 4, Mess 2, Rogers 1). Total fouls– B 21, S 15. Fouled out– B: Payton Calvert.

Belmont… 25   29 – 54
Benton….. 25   40 – 65
Belmont – Ty Palzkill 15, Tyler Simmons 12, Waylon Palzkill 19, Casin Carey 5, Fischer Ludlum 3. Totals – 20  9-14  54.
Benton – Chad Haffele 24, Luke Jansen 5, Nate Lawrence 4, Nathan Keleher 17, Payton Calvert 1, Rex Blaine 14. Totals — 20  18-22  65.
3-point goals– BEL 5 (T. Palzkill 1, Simmons 2, W. Palzkill 1, Ludlum 1), BEN 7 (Haffele 6, R. Blaine 1). Total fouls– BEL 21, BEN 12. Fouled out– None.