Lady Warriors Punch Their Ticket
First State Tournament Appearance in 40 years
March 2, 2023
Mike Motz, Sports Editor, Sun-Telegraph
Leyton's Lady Warrior Girls Basketball team traveled all the way to Brady on Friday for a neutral-site District Final matchup against the Parkview Christian Lady Patriots, and were able to capitalize on their strong defense and smart game plan to beat Parkview Christian and advance to the NSAA State Tournament for the first time since 1983. The girls enter the Class D2 Tournament as the No. 8 seed, and will match up against No. 1 seed, and defending D2 State Champion, Falls City Sacred Heart on Thursday at 9 a.m. At Pinnacle Bank Arena. Falls City Sacred Heart defeated Parkview Christian 40-to-27 in their final regular season game on February 16.
Leyton had some good fortune going into the game against Parkview Christian, as two of their starting juniors, Isabella Minatti and Jada Smith were out with injuries. Both girls are over 5' 10" and averaged double-digits scoring. Leyton had to do without junior Trinity Beutler and sophomore Lila McGaughlin, who were out with injuries also, with McGlaughlin out for the entire season with a knee injury.
Head Coach Jed Benish knew the Lady Patriots would be keying on leading scorer Zaili Benish, and he made the Parkview Christian team pay, with the sophomore standout dishing the ball to her teammates for baskets while also scoring herself. Leyton had a dominating first quarter, holding the Lady Patriots to just four points while getting their chances to score Benish buried two three pointers near the end of the period to open a 14-to-4 lead. The Lady Patriots were more effective in the second quarter, putting up 11 points to Leyton's eight, but Leyton was able to take a 22-to-15 lead at the halftime break.
The Leyton squad kept pushing the ball through the second half while Parkview Christian relied on their lone senor starter, 6' 1" Aisha Dos Santos, to lead their offense. The Leyton offense kept going, outscoring the Lady Patriots 13-to-9 in the third period to keep their lead. The conditioning of the Lady Warriors paid off in the fourth quarter, as both teams started to tire. But the superior conditioning of the Lady Warriors, because of a lack of numbers over the past few seasons necessitating many of their players playing every minute of every game, paid off. Jed Benish noted after the game, "We saw them (Parkview) sitting on the bench and gassed, while we never sit during breaks. It's not that we're not tired, but we're used to it." The mental toughness gained by playing through fatigue really made a difference in this game, as Leyton's unrelenting pace and schemes wore the Lady Patriots out. As the Parkview Christian girls tried to rally in the last half of the fourth quarter, there was no let up by Leyton, and the girls continued to score and put the game out of reach. The game ended with a final score of 46-to-29, Leyton was crowned as D2-4 Champions, and they punched their ticket to the NSAA Tournament in Lincoln. Sophomore Sydney Fortune led the scoring for Leyton with 14 points, followed by sophomore Zaili Bensih with 12 and junior Claire Watchorn with 12 points also. Watchorn did a great job scoring and defending under the boards, and looks to be a much improved player with confidence and tenacity under the rim.
The last time Leyton made it to the State Tournament was back in 1983, when their powerhouse team made it to States three out of four years previous. In 1983, the Lady Warriors lost in the quarterfinals to Arnold, 48-to-35. A tentative offense combined with poor shooting performances spelled the end of the line for that Lady Warrior team. Coach Benish now has the task of getting his girls mentally right for the tournament, and have the highest level of confidence possible in their ability. This is a team that is young and physically talented, with shooters that can score from the inside and outside. They are also very disciplined, and rarely let opponents go on runs for very long and play very good defense. Most importantly, watching this team it becomes evident that they respond to coaching well, and trust their coach and each other to make the right call and be in the right place and execute. All of the conditioning and practice need to pay off at their highest possible level, as they have drawn No.1 seed and 2022 D2 defending champion Falls City Sacred Heart. The Lady Irish come into the contest with a 23-and-3 record, and are loaded with experienced talent that not has only been to the NSAA Tournament before, they've also won it all. The Lady Warriors must play sharp, get their shots to fall, and make the Lady Irish work to keep pace. If they can, and are able to keep the score close in the final minutes, look for Leyton to have a good shot at a late scoring burst to upset the defending champions.