Julia Benjamin’s high school basketball debut didn’t get off to a promising start.
It sure ended with one.
Glenbard West’s freshman guard overcame serious fouling problems and led a fourth quarter comeback that turned a Tuesday night loss almost into an unlikely win.
Benjamin scored 12 of their 17 points in a span of 103 seconds in the final minutes as the hosts Hilltoppers reduced a gap of 16 points to one before Naperville Central took a 59-57 opening win.
It was a rally nobody saw coming, especially considering that Benjamin was out much of the time in the first three quarters, having conceded three fouls in the first five minutes and her fourth foul early in the third quarter.
“When you get into bad trouble it can sometimes upset you mentally,” said Kristi Faulkner, Glenbard West coach. “But she stayed in and was ready to play and not give up.
“When it came down to it in the clutch time, she showed real courage and was fearless.”
The Hilltoppers were 56-40 behind when the 5-foot-6 Benjamin turned a steal into a traditional three-point game with 2:50 remaining.
Sophia Brown followed suit, and she and Benjamin were quick to scare the Redhawks. Benjamin buried consecutive 3-pointers from Brown assists and then Emmie Roberts made two free throws to complete a 14-0 run.
Haley Hayes, who led Naperville Central with 17 points, responded with a layup, but Benjamin left her fourth 3-pointer 1:07 to move Glenbard West within 57-56.
“I just took the stress and put it down and tried to come back and pull my team out,” said Benjamin. “I felt a lot better with the shots I made and my bank hyped me and made it a lot easier.
“Before that I didn’t get the recordings that I wanted to do, and then when I did that first record, it lifted me.”
The Redhawks were then taken away by Junior Guard Ella Burke, who prevented Benjamin from firing another shot.
“For 28 minutes I was really happy with the way we played and in the end they just shot some of them,” said Andy Nussbaum, Naperville Central coach. “I don’t know what No. 10‘s name is, but Ella Burke did a great job at the last minute to keep them from scoring and in fact it was on her suggestion. “
Benjamin, who ended up with five rebounds and four steals, had an impact in the last minute with an offensive rebound and steal. But the Hilltoppers missed their last three shots, including a possible attempt to start in Kennedy Brandt’s lane with five seconds to go before Benjamin fouled 3.2 ticks on the left.
Ella McDonald then split two free throws for Central 2.1 seconds from time, and Glenbard West failed to fire a shot.
“Every point counted tonight,” said Nussbaum. “We’re really happy to win.”
Despite the defeat, Faulkner was delighted with their team’s comeback, citing the game by Benjamin and Brandt, a junior center that scored 11 of their 13 points after the break.
“I was really proud of our girls,” said Faulkner. “We were down, and to fight back the way they did and how they showed their resilience, I was really, really proud of their heart and their efforts. They didn’t give up.”
Benjamin’s game was especially encouraging given her family heritage. She is the second cousin of Maureen Draths, who was the starting center of the Glenbard West team, which ranked third in the state in 1999.
Faulkner was the star of this team.
“We have seen her play since she was little,” said Faulkner. “She works really hard.
“She’s a great kid with a lot of heart. She’s really fun to coach and knowing that she has Maureen as a relative is pretty cool.”