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Woodlan advances to sectional semifinals

– Senior Jaylin Bennett and the Woodlan boys basketball team flexed their championship muscle in the second half and rallied for a 60-51 win over Eastside in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A South Adams Sectional.

In the lone game of the sectional’s opening day Tuesday, the Warriors found themselves with a near double-figure third-quarter deficit but showed exactly how they won the ACAC regular-season and tournament titles this year.

“We have played for multiple championships, so we have been in this situation before, we just kept our heads, and we just did what we had to do,” said Bennett, who is signed to play college football at Indiana State.

Woodlan (16-6) will face another NECC team, Churubusco (6-15), at 6 p.m. Friday in the sectional semifinals.

Woodlan whittled a first-half double figure lead to 41-32 in the third and then went on a 20-5 run into the fourth to turn things around. The Warriors held a 54-51 advantage with 1:18 remaining before scoring the final six points of game to secure the win.

“I knew we were better than we were showing,” Woodlan coach Dave Randall said. “Fortunately I had some kids who were panicking, and they knew they weren’t bringing it.

“I just said, ‘Hey, guys, they are going to run us off this floor.’ We didn’t have any defensive urgency in the first quarter, and we kind of got it in the second quarter. Then we started giving the ball to Jaylin, … and he is our safety blanket.”

Bennett led the Warriors with 23 points and seven rebounds, while Loren Hahn came off the bench to deliver 11 points and three big 3-pointers. Kadin Gerig added 10 points.

“Loren usually comes off the bench firing, and he gave us a spark,” Bennett said.

The Blazers took control early and built a 28-14 advantage in the second before the Warriors trimmed the margin to 34-30 at halftime.

Despite that surge, Woodlan didn’t take the lead until a 3-pointer by Hahn early in the fourth gave it a 45-44 advantage.

It was the Warriors’ first lead of the game.

“They took the ball to the basket more than they did the first time we played them, had good ball reversal and hit some shots,” Bennett said of the Blazers. “We just had to step up our defense and get it done.”

The teams had met just five days earlier, with the Warriors winning 56-50 to end the regular season.

“When you play a team like Eastside, it’s very stressful,” Randall said. “I heard people say you want to play vanilla (last Friday). I was like, no I want to win every game, and that was our Senior Night. We couldn’t play vanilla against a team like that, they would hammer us. We used every trick in the bag both nights.”

Eastside (13-9) got 16 points Ryan Liechty, 13 from Kadis Renier and 11 from P.J. Dean.