PRICEVILLE — Dribbling the ball once, Coty Benitez split two defenders in the lane as he took the ball to the rim.
Nimble and athletic, Benitez made the approach appear almost graceful — at 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds.
Not that anyone on the Brewer High sideline was surprised. They see big Benitez make difficult plays look easy on a nightly basis.
Benitez didn’t lower his standard Tuesday night. Brewer’s big man poured in 23 points, including seven in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots held off rival Priceville 60-56 in the opening round of the Morgan County tournament.
Brewer advances to play Danville in the tournament semifinals on Friday.
“I’ve always moved pretty good to be a big guy,” Benitez said. “When I used to play AAU, my feet got better, and I got more comfortable with the ball in my hands.”
When talking about his star post player, Brewer coach Doug Oldacre didn’t hold back praise.
“Coty is a great athlete and has been one of our most consistent scorers all season,” he said. “He moves well and, with his size, is difficult to guard. I think everyone saw that tonight.”
Brewer needed every bit of Benitez’s offensive production. After building an 11-point lead in the second quarter, Priceville rallied back, making 8 of 13 from the foul line to pull within four by halftime.
The host Bulldogs kept pace until the final buzzer sounded.
“This wasn’t an easy game to open the tournament with,” Oldacre said. “Playing your rival on their home floor, there were a lot of emotions running wild out there. Getting this win is a testament to our players. They had to battle for this one.”
“Just thinking about the game, I had butterflies all day,” he said. “This is always an emotional game.”
For Brewer, there were no sign of nerves in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were clutch at the foul line when the game was still in doubt.
With Priceville threatening to tie the score late, pulling within three multiple times, Jacob Donahoo helped Brewer maintain the lead by going 6 of 6 from the foul line.
Donohoo finished with seven points, while Brandon Elder added six.
Kaleb Barker paced Priceville with 17 points, while Marc McLendon tossed in 11.
Hayden Prentice added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Brewer finished the game 20 of 24 from the free-throw line.
“That was the difference. Plain and simple,” Oldacre said. “We always stress free-throw shooting, and we’ve been spotty at times with that. But we had guys step up in a big way tonight. They played their tails off and got out of here with a win.”
Danville 44, West Morgan 32: Both arms raised above her head at a slight angle, Sydni Shelton leaped up and blocked the ball as it came out of Hannah Flack’s hand.
Shelton used perfect volleyball technique. Just playing the wrong sport.
But still effective.
With a spot in the Morgan County tournament semifinals on the line, Shelton and her long wingspan ruled the lane, blocking shots and creating matchup problems to help Danville High advance past rival West Morgan.
Danville (19-7) advances to face Hartselle on Friday in the semifinals.
“I didn’t even know I did that,” Shelton said of her volleyball-esque blocked shot. The 6-foot-0 sophomore is considered a Division I volleyball prospect. “Guess it’s just habit.”
The statement brought a chuckle from Danville coach Paul Wilson.
“I was thinking the same. Looked just like she was up on the net,” he said. “But hey, I don’t care how she looks when she blocks a shot as long as she keeps on blocking them.”
Shelton averages about three blocks a game. She kept pace in the tournament opener while flashing an array of basketball skills.
Shelton made two 3-pointers. She sank a clutch 8-footer. She was a perfect from the foul line. She even handled the ball some at a key — and tense — point of the game.
Danville’s “Miss Everything” did, well, a little of everything. She finished with 10 points.
“With her height and her length, having Sydni on the floor can change a game,” Wilson said. “When she’s on the floor, we’re a better team because of it.”
Leading by one in the fourth quarter, Wilson decided to back away from his usual up-tempo philosophy, opting to slow down the game — a decision that drew boos from the crowd after a Danville possession that lasted almost two minutes.
The decision worked. Danville held West Morgan to no field goals in the fourth quarter. A pair of free throws from Hannah Amos were the Rebels’ only points during that span.
“We hardly ever use a stall offense, but we did tonight because it allowed us to create space and get the ball to Sydni,” Wilson said. “Plus, our little eighth grade point guard (Tara Tuck) did a fantastic job.”
Danville outscored West Morgan 11-2 in the fourth quarter, making five of seven attempts from the foul line.
Tabetha Hutto paced Danville with 14 points, while Shelton tossed in 10.
Heather Amos led West Morgan with eight points, and Jamia Gibson added seven.
“This is pretty exciting for us,” Shelton said. “We want to get to the championship and see if we can it. That’s our goal. We feel like we’re playing pretty good right now. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Justin Graves can be contacted at 256-340-2460 or by email at email@example.com.