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Basketball St. Anthony

CIF Girls’ Basketball: St. Anthony Comes Back To Win Division 2AA Championship

Moreno Valley had the CIF Southern Section Girls’ Basketball Division 2AA championship in its hands on Friday at Azusa Pacific University.

The Vikings swiftly jumped out to a 15-point first quarter lead, and were up by nine with 11 minutes to play, but every time you thought they were out the St. Anthony Saints were right back in as Ryann Bennett sparked the comeback for a 64-58 championship win.

It’s the first CIF-SS championship for St. Anthony since 2016 when current coach Ray Bennett watched his daughter, Tayler, win the school’s third CIF title. Fast forward eight years to Friday and Bennett was able to celebrate with Ryann and lift the CIF plaque.

“To be able to do it with my youngest daughter, the last one to come through, that’s super special… That’s a dream come true for me,” said coach Bennett.

Ryann Bennett ended the first half without a field goal, having shot 0/5 from the field in what looked like an off night in the senior’s biggest game of her career. But if you know anything about Bennett, she only gets better as the game goes on. The UC Davis commit found her first bucket two minutes into the third quarter before hitting back-to-back threes.

“I knew I had to ramp it up and get to the basket and start making shots,” said Bennett. “I had the confidence, I put in all the hours, played the whole summer, worked out the whole season.”

Bennett drilled another three in the fourth to give the Saints their first lead after trailing for the first 25 minutes of the game. St. Anthony was able to hold onto their lead in the final minutes of fourth to complete their miraculous comeback win in the CIF-SS D4AA championship, 64-58.

“I knew they were gonna start to fall so I just had to keep that confidence up,” said Bennett, who ended up scoring all of her 14 points in the second half, and finished with a game-high five assists.

St. Anthony got a game-high 22 points from Kadence Lloyd, who was 5/9 from the field and 11/12 from the free throw line. She and Bennett both had a team-high seven rebounds. Melaiah Joseph scored 11 of her 13 points in the first half, and Laila Hughes had a pair of key buckets late while scoring six of her 10 points in the second half.

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After brutal opening minutes to the game for St. Anthony a 6-0 run helped alleviate the Saints’ nerves and cut the lead to 10-19 headed to the second. St. Anthony was able to stretch its run to 11-0 and pull within five despite all the first half momentum wearing Moreno Valley blue.

With attention surfacing around Bennett, the Saints found a one-two punch in Joseph and Lloyd. Joseph helped stretch the floor by shooting 3/6 from three in the half, leaving an opening for Lloyd down the lane and to the free throw line, but St Anthony still trailed 33-28 at halftime.

“My mindset is to take the attack, and if I don’t have the attack then I’m looking for my shooters like (Joseph),” said Lloyd. “Nine times out of 10 I see a mismatch so I just try and attack to the rim. Once I get a rhythm down there I’m pretty solid. I just keep going at it, making it work and making adjustments.”

“It felt good,” added Joseph of her early contributions. “I know I’m a shooter and sometimes I’m in a slump but when I’m not in a slump I’m very good and reliable, so it was good.”

While being down five at the half is usually bad news, it isn’t too bad when your best player has

yet to find her first points. Bennett went on to take over in the third with 10 of her team’s 15 third-quarter points. After the game she said she just needed to slow down coming out of the half before settling down.

“I just felt that I was moving too fast, the game was too fast for me,’ said Bennett. “Usually I’m able to control the pace myself but it was very important for me to find my teammates. So, I wasn’t too focused on scoring myself but I told myself to keep being aggressive”

Bennett’s go-ahead 3-pointer early in the fourth gave her team the lead for the rest of the game, as they led by as much as six with 40 seconds left.

McKenzie Gillman had a team-high for the Vikings of 17 points with five rebounds. Leiayjah Mills also finished with 15 while Bella Medina chipped in 13 points.

The St. Anthony girls’ basketball program has won all five CIF-SS championship appearances.

CIF State brackets will be released early this week.

VIDEO: St. Anthony vs. Moreno Valley, CIF Girls’ Basketball Championship
PHOTOS: St. Anthony vs. Moreno Valley, CIF Girls’ Basketball Championship
Eli Aquino
Eli Aquino is a high school student with plenty of writing and technology skills. He has a healthy knowledge and passion for sports and looks to take on journalism as a future career.