It’s been a season of ups and downs for Sierra Benning.
The sophomore transferred from Wahpeton to Central Lakes College this year and is the only true point guard on the Raiders’ roster.
Coming off a Wednesday loss to Itasca, Benning powered the Raiders to a 76-68 win over Vermilion and gave CLC a firm hold on second place in the Northern Division with one week remaining.
Benning finished with 22 points in 40 minutes of game action. She added 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals as CLC improved to 9-3 in division play.
“It was tough today, but coming back from Wednesday’s loss was huge,” Benning said. “I transferred from Wahpeton where my role was that of a point guard, too. It was so much different coming here. I had to be a leader because they didn’t have that and it was tough for me as the only point guard coming in, but it has come together and we are doing well as a team.”
The point guard’s biggest play came with the Raiders trailing 53-49 midway through the second half. Benning stole an Ironmen inbound pass and converted the shot for a two-point deficit. Vermilion turned the ball over again with Benning getting the ball and making two free throws to tie the game.
“To be honest with you, no one on the bench saw it,” said head coach Dennis Eastman. “We made the shot and she just snuck out there by herself. Everyone kind of turned back and here she was making a layup. She also finished 12-14 from the free throw line and did a good job today.”
Said Benning: “I was just sitting back and waiting for it. I kind of snuck up and it happened so fast I was kind of shocked by it.”
Despite getting good looks, CLC shot just 33 percent from the field and needed a 10-0 at the end of the half to close to 35-33. Vermilion’s Ashley Guevara scored 16 points in the first half.
“When things aren’t going well we tend to be tough on ourselves and I just tried to convince them to forget about it and breathe,” said Eastman. “Whatever they have done before it doesn’t matter now. They battled through the first half and I think it was a big turn of events when we made that run. I think it was the spark that they needed.”
The Raiders continued to be plagued by poor shooting in the second half. Good defense and Benning’s free throws helped the Raiders build a 63-58 advantage before Vermilion made a bucket at 4:03.
Lindsay Monson, who finished with 17 points, responded with a basket on the next possession and the Raiders made free throws down the stretch for the win. CLC made 18-of-24 free throws.
“The biggest thing is that if we are not scoring, we have to focus on our defense and our shots will come,” Eastman said. “They kept playing defense and I tried to keep telling them at halftime that if the shots aren’t falling, we needed to keep working harder on defense.”
The victory secured the Raiders a playoff spot in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference state tournament. Rainy River and CLC are tied for second in the division at 9-3 and Mesabi is fourth at 7-5.
Vermilion 35 33 — 68
Central Lakes 33 43 — 76
Ashley Guevara 28, Tyesha Wright 5, Brittany Finley 2, Teneisha Brooks 21, Mariah McDonald 7, Cayla Banks 2, Haley Larson 3. FG 23-62 (37 percent), FT 14-24 (58 percent). 3-point 8-25 (32 percent).
Sierra Benning 22, Ashley Arneson 10, Taalyr Egeness 12, Carlie Sweet 2, Lindsay Monson 17, Jalynn Lamb 13. FG 28-69 (41 percent), FT 18-24 (75 percent). 3-point 2-11 (18 percent). Division: 9-3. Overall: 10-13. Next: CLC at Mesabi 6 p.m. Wednesday.