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Morgan Thomalla (right)) of Benet Academy grabs a loose ball on the run to start a fast break as Bridget Ruder (12) of Downers Grove South tries to stay with her. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Benet was playing on the road against a tough defensive team, trailing by nine points after one quarter and had lost its best player to injury in the second period.
In other words, it wasn’t going to be the Redwings’ night, right?
Wrong. Despite playing without leading scorer Christen Prasse for the last 18 minutes, Benet persevered and roared back to knock off local rival Downers South 55-38 Tuesday in Downers Grove.
Downers South (11-8) led 15-6 after the first quarter and was on fire early, sinking eight of its first 10 shots. Benet responded by going on a 9-0 run to start the second period, tying the game on a three-pointer by freshman guard Kathleen Doyle and taking an 18-16 lead on another three by sophomore Emily Eshoo.
But the Redwings trailed 22-18 when the 5-10 Prasse, a St. Louis recruit, left the game with 2:36 to go in the half after getting her chin slammed to the floor while wrestling for a loose ball. Prasse did not return and the Redwings were naturally concerned.
“Yeah, definitely, because she [Prasse] runs the show for us and she keeps us composed and all organized,” Eshoo said. “But we grew today. We were able to get stronger and grow up without her.”
Doyle scored on a pull-up jumper with :02 left to tie the game 22-22 at halftime and then the visitors outscored the Mustangs 20-9 in the third quarter to grab a 42-31 lead, which they extended to 53-33 on a jumper by Eden Olson with 2:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Eshoo scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the third quarter, including a pair of three-pointers. She and sophomore Emily Schramek were dominant after the break, with Schramek adding 12 of her 13 points, including two treys, to go along with 10 rebounds, three steals and three assists.
The Redwings did this against a Downers South defense that has surrendered just 39.9 points per game. The 55 points were the most given up by the Mustangs so far.
“I feel like we got stops on defense without fouling and then we were able to push the ball up fast and get easy baskets,” Eshoo said. “By stopping them we were able to get easy baskets.”
That was in marked contrast to the first half, when Benet made only 8 of 27 shots and couldn’t get in rhythm.
“It seemed like, honest to God, in the first and second quarter they set up every time, and once they set up we had a difficult time just penetrating a little bit,” Benet coach Peter Paul said. “Then, near the end of third quarter we had a chance to run a little more, which is us. Then Eshoo hit some baskets and it was just a matter of time.
“If we shoot well we’re going to be in every game. That’s Benet basketball.”
Eshoo said the Redwings benefitted from a change in Downers South’s defense in the third quarter.
“It was just kind of a different game because they actually started to play man on us more so we were able to run our own offense,” Eshoo said. “We know that really well and we were able to get the shots that we know we can get, and we just hit them.”
Conversely, the Mustangs weren’t able to hit much after their fast start, making only five baskets after intermission. Megan Brashaw led Downers South with nine points, while Claire Hardy had eight points and Kirsten Zemke seven.
Doyle finished with 11 points for Benet and Prasse had five points, six rebounds and three steals in her limited action and declared herself fit after the game.
“I think [her teammates] did great,” Prasse said. “We’ve had so many injuries this season and I think it builds a lot of character being able to adjust to it.
“I got hurt in the second quarter and they took over. I think that’s one of the really good qualities that we have about our team. We can adjust and make do with what we have.”