CANTON, Jan. 4 – The Canton High girls basketball team is without their best player. Junior Sarah Benedetti tore ligament in her ankle in the second game of the season. But the Warriors are embracing the challenge of playing with Benedetti, who scored a career-high 32 points in a season opening victory over East Windsor.
When a team has a dominant player like Benedetti, teammates frequently defer to her, letting her take the big shot, grab the big rebound or make the key stop.
Now, the Warriors are learning to play without Benedetti and win. Canton lost the first two games they played without Benedetti but they have won the last two – a pair of overtime decisions in the Derita Construction Classic at Haddam-Killingworth to give Canton its first regular season tournament championship in school history.
The Warriors (4-2, 2-0 NCCC) beat St. Bernards in the semifinals, 37-36 and then beat host Haddam-Killingworth in the final, 49-45, despite the Cougars hitting a big three-point shot at the buzzed to force overtime.
“They’ve realized they can do this,” a proud Canton coach Jeanne Holian said. “They believe now.”
Adding to the challenge was the fact that Canton was expecting just seven experienced players to fill out the varsity lineup. The remainder of the team was freshmen and sophomores with little or no varsity experience. But one player decided not to play and when Benedetti was hurt, there were just five experienced players left.
Holian isn’t afraid to play the youngsters but wants to be fair to them and not put them into overwhelming situations. Canton did upgrade its schedule this year to prepare for the Class S tournament.
Junior guard Megan Roux, senior Danielle Coutu, junior Kathryn Curvino, senior Lucy Mentzer and senior guard Sarah Getz are playing the majority of the minutes. And Holian was proud that these five played primarily man-to-man defense in the championship win over H-K.
“We figured we would start off the game in man but we ended up in it for the whole game, four and a half quarters,” Holian said. “They way they gutted that out was unbelievable.”
Canton trailed by six at halftime and was down by as many as eight points. But they wouldn’t go away. Roux had 16 points and Coutu had six of her eight points in the fourth quarter on two big baskets and two foul shots. Curvino sank her only field goal (a three-pointer) and two foul shots in the fourth quarter. Mentzer, whose job was to slow down 5-foot-9 Megan Schultz of HK, hit two free throws. Getz finished with 10 points
“Everyone made some big play,” Holian said. “Defensively, it was fun to watch. They just would not give up.”
Schultz, who finished with 17, hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to force OT. But the Warriors calmly came to the bench and went to work in OT, outscoring the Cougars, 8-4 to win the tournament. Roux was named the tournament MVP.
In the semifinal win over St. Bernard, Roux had 14 points while Getz had eight points. Canton sank 14-of-17 free throws in the game, led by Roux, who was 8-for-8 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and OT.
Benedetti is expected back eventually and Canton is looking for another four wins to earn a trip to the CIAC Class S tournament.