BENTON CITY -- After a rough start Tuesday, the Connell girls basketball team dialed up the pressure.
Using a full-court, man-to-man defense, the Eagles rallied from a big early deficit to roll to a 49-37 SCAC East victory at Kiona-Benton in a matchup of league unbeatens.
"We knew we have a lot of girls that can play," Connell coach Kameron Jenks said, "and they only use seven players. So, we tried to wear them out.
"I told the girls I didn't think (Kiona-Benton) could handle the pressure and that we had to get up on them and wear them out."
The Eagles (9-2 overall, 5-0 league) did just that, turning a 15-5 deficit early in the second quarter into an 21-20 lead early in the third quarter.
"We came out and we haven't been starting games very well," Connell's Kody Easterday said. "(Jenks) told us to step up the pressure, and we took it to them."
Easterday had four points during the 16-5 run, as seven players scored for the Eagles during the push.
"It's just awesome to know that all of our work this season is paying off," Connell's Marci Hawkins said. "To be able to beat a good state team like Ki-Be is good."
The Bears (8-4, 3-1) settled down briefly and retook a 24-21 lead on a jumper by Yesenia Torres and a scoop shot by Bailey Schroeder, but then the Eagles went on a 12-0 run to blow the game open.
Easterday started the run with a lay-in, Michelle Schultz had two layups, and Kylie Booker, Ashley Thompson and Elaine Pierson all had buckets to cap the run.
"It was a butt-kicking," Kiona-Benton coach Joe Wirtzberger said. "The more physical (Connell) got, we got on our heels and stopped attacking. It was like a punch in the chin."
The Bears turned the ball over
11 times in the third quarter, including four times on offensive fouls as they were completely out of rhythm and couldn't handle the frenetic play of the Eagles.
"This doesn't ruin our goal of a league title," Wirtzberger said. "This makes us better, but you to match what Connell does to you. You have to be physical back or else you are just their little sister."
The Eagles definitely played like their older sisters. Connell has no returning starters from last season's state qualifying team, and Jenks is in his first year as head coach.
That didn't matter in the biggest game of the young season, though, as nine girls played and eight scored.
"Last year we had a really deep bench too," Easterday said. "We are young, but we worked hard. We played summer ball, work hard in practice, and we want to be a good team.
"Ki-Be's always good, so this gives us confidence in our next games."
Hawkins' 11 points and five rebounds led the Eagles, while Easterday added 10 points and four rebounds. Schultz finished with seven points and nine rebounds, including four offensive boards. Pierson and Shelby English had six each points each.
Cierra Torp scored a game-high 15 for the Bears, while Schroeder added eight points and six rebounds and Taylor Brown had seven points.
CONNELL -- Marci Hawkins 4 2-5 11, Kody Easterday 4 2-8 10, Michelle Schultz 3 1-1 7, Shelby English 3 0-0 6, Megan Booker 1 0-0 2, Ashley Thompson 1 1-2 3, Elaine Pierson 2 2-5 6, Kylie Booker 2 0-0 4, Madison Riner 0 0-0 0, Kennidi Whitby 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 8-21 49.
KIONA-BENTON -- Cierra Torp 6 3-8 15, Bailey Schroeder 2 4-8 8, Cheyenne Henrich 0 1-2 1, Yesenia Torres 2 0-0 5, Brittany Vickerman 0 1-2 1, Taylor Brown 3 1-2 7, Kendall Watts 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 10-22 37.
Connell 5 14 17 13 -- 49
Kiona-Benton 13 7 8 9 -- 37
3-point goals -- Connell 1 (Hawkins), Kiona-Benton 1 (Torres). Total fouls -- Connell 19, Kiona-Benton 21. Fouled out -- Kiona-Benton, Torp, Schroeder. Technical fouls -- Kiona-Benton, coach Joe Wirtzberger. Rebounds -- Connell 49 (Schultz 9), Kiona-Benton 38 (Torres, Schroeder 6). Turnovers -- Connell 17, Kiona-Benton 24.