Top-ranked Southridge figured to provide a tall challenge for the Benson girls basketball team on Saturday in the Class 6A championship game at Chiles Center.
That challenge became a lot steeper less than six minutes into the game when Benson's Tayler Lyday picked up her third foul, and the Techsters' fun run ended with a 46-27 loss as the Skyhawks won their second consecutive championship.
The afternoon was not what the Techsters hoped for. But Benson was thrilled to see Lyday and point guard Makenzy Porter named to the all-tournament first team.
In the state tournament for the first time in 22 seasons, the Techsters beat teams seeded second and third to reach the title game. But they couldn't derail the top-ranked Skyhawks.
"This game was height against speed, and their height got to us," said Lyday, who scored all 10 of her points in the second half.
Porter also tallied 10 points, but the Techsters struggled to find good shots against an active Southridge defense anchored by 6-4 sophomore Cameron Brink, who blocked six shots and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
Benson shot 19 percent for the game. Coach Eric Knox knew the writing was on the wall when Lyday picked up her third foul with 2:49 left in the first quarter and his team down 10-3.
"When I got that third foul, I was disappointed with myself. I just couldn't wait to get back on the court," Lyday said.
That didn't happen until the third quarter. Knox said he considered putting Lyday back in in the second quarter, but was hoping his team — which rallied from 11 down in the round of 16 a week ago — could stay within striking distance.
But Southridge (28-1, including a 62-45 win over Benson in January) made runs of 10 and 11 points in the first half to lead 28-11 at halftime. The Techsters were 4 for 25 from the floor in the first half, with two of the baskets coming in the final minute, one of them a running bank shot by Ciera Ellington at the buzzer.
The loss of Lyday was especially tough because Ellington has been hampered by an injured hamstring and struggled offensively.
Benson held one lead, on a Porter 3-pointer that made the score 3-2.
Southridge had three players score in double figures, led by 12 points from guard Maggie Freeman. Freeman and 6-2 Natalie Hoff are the only seniors on the Skyhawks.
"We wanted to keep Maggie uncomfortable. We wanted to make other people beat us. We wanted to use some of our length to keep them off balance," Knox said. "It didn't work. They're just too good."
Benson should return four of its five starters. With Lyday, Porter and Ellington all juniors, the Techsters will have some unfinished business in 2019.
"Southridge is an amazing team. They have an amazing coaching staff. They have amazing talent," Porter said. "They got us this round. I feel like next year we're going to use this as fuel."