Class 3A State Basketball Tournament
Benton 40, Des Moines Christian 36

An early 19-point lead proved to be just enough for Benton Community to earn its first state tournament victory.

The fourth-seeded Bobcats stopped a late run by fifth-seeded Des Moines Christian and held on for a 40-36 victory in a first-round Class 3A game.

Benton had lost in the first round in each of its four previous state tournament appearances, but now the Bobcats are headed for a semifinal date with eighth-seeded Vinton-Shellsburg, which stunned top-seeded Estherville-Lincoln Central 54-46 in the opening game of the 3A tournament.

The two meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, with the winner advancing to Friday night’s championship game.

Jenna Twedt, the only senior in the starting lineup, led Benton with 16 points and sank a pair of clinching free throws with 28.1 seconds left. Emma Townsley added 10 points, McKenna Kramer scored six and Piper Nelson helped out defensively with eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal.

Maren Miller led Des Moines Christian with 10 points and 13 rebounds. Kaitlyn Mumm and Abby Hall each scored nine points for the Lions, with Mumm adding five rebounds and a block.

For a while, it looked as though Benton was headed for a rout. The Bobcats sank five 3-pointers in building a 26-7 lead as Des Moines Christian struggled to get anything going offensively.

The Bobcats led 26-11 at halftime but stalled in the second half and Des Moines Christian crept back in it. The Lions got to within seven points, fell behind by double figures and then rallied again, holding Benton to one basket in the fourth quarter and drawing to 38-34 when Paige Hilgerson drove for a basket with 2:20 left.

Plenty of time remained, but Benton stiffened defensively and finally put it out of reach with Twedt’s late free throws after Des Moines Christian had to foul five times to put the Bobcats on the line.

Des Moines Christian made it a game despite shooting just 37 percent and going 2-for-15 from 3-point range. The Lions did it by holding Benton to 4-for-20 shooting in the second half , staying even with the Bobcats on the boards and keeping them off the free throw line.

Benton, which made it to state for the second straight year, moves on with a 22-3 record. Des Moines Christian, a five-time qualifier at state, finishes 21-4.