Pioneers make history in dramatic fashion

PROVIDENCE HIGH — The coin has landed in favor of the Providence High girls' basketball team so far this postseason, as the Pioneers played their third-straight playoff game at home Wednesday.

And for the third-straight game, Providence outlasted its opposition — this time it was Mesa Grande Academy — on a game-winning bucket from Bea Benedicto with 18 seconds left for a 56-54 win in the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA quarterfinal.

"It's a huge adrenaline rush because you know you make it or you break it in those last couple seconds," said Benedicto, who finished with 10 points. "Thank the Lord we pulled it off."

The No. 6 Cardinals (24-2) were the second team in a row to showcase their nerves late on Providence's home floor, as they committed nine turnovers and two technical fouls in the final eight minutes.

Home court has been big for No. 3 Providence (25-4), as both CIF flips to determine the home team in the second round and quarterfinal have all fallen in the Pioneers' favor.

"I am going to call CIF and ask for that coin, put in a frame, put it on my wall — the lucky coin that's helped us out," Providence Coach Andrew Bencze said. "It's been great and obviously we've needed it, we've had some close games.

"Now we have to go on the road and I think we're ready for that, we're ready for that challenge."

Bencze is referring to Saturday's semifinal when Providence will travel to Ojai to face No. 2 Villanova Prep at 7 p.m. It's the first time in program history the Pioneers have advanced to the semifinal.

"This is the first time this has ever happened in Providence history and our team is stoked it's happening to us," said Benedicto, who was held in check until the fourth quarter when she scored five points and pulled down three of her four rebounds.

Katia Dabbaghian came up big for Providence all game, including the fourth quarter, where she scored eight of her game-high 17 points and hit all four of her free throws.

"It's like history, we've come this far already and you have to do whatever you can to keep going," said Dabbaghian, who also had eight steals.

It was an all-around effort, though, as Amanda Reyes scored 10 points, Janel Adraneda added nine and Nicole Mungues and Estelle Glorioso added five each for the Pioneers.

The Pioneers held a 29-19 turnover advantage, which helped them outlast a 37-19 disadvantage on the glass.

The game was eerily similar to Providence's 42-40 second-round win over Brethren Christian Saturday.

Once again the Pioneers fell behind in the third quarter, as the Cardinals' Michaela Garcia, who finished with 14 points, sank a layup to cap a 15-0 run that gave Mesa Grande a nine-point lead, 36-27, with 3:08 left in the quarter.

Providence had yet another answer, as it cut the deficit to 40-36 heading into the fourth. Reyes hit a three-pointer and Benedicto completed an and-one opportunity in the final three minutes of the frame.

The final quarter started out better than the Pioneers could have dreamed yet again as they opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to retake the lead, 44-40.

"The one thing about this team is they have a lot of fight," Bencze said. "You could see in that fourth quarter they weren't going to lose. They never feel like they're out of it."

Mesa Grande managed to tie the score at 48 when Madison Price, who had a huge game with 16 points and 18 rebounds, nailed back-to-back buckets off Providence turnovers with 3:33 left.

Slovyana Grekov gave the Cardinals their first lead of the fourth quarter, 53-53, with a deep three-pointer with two minutes left that answered a deep two-point jumper from Dabbaghian.

The Cardinals turned the ball over on five of their final six possessions, as Providence took a 54-53 edge with 45 seconds left on a single free throws from Adraneda and Benedicto.

Price evened the score again at 54 with 26 ticks remaining by cashing in on the second of two free throws.

Dabbaghian took the ensuing inbounds pass, but had nowhere to go, as Mesa Grande applied full-court pressure and a double-team on the freshman, who looked up and chucked an outlet pass to Reyes, who sent a quick pass down low in the post to Benedicto.

Benedicto made a quick post move to get space and nailed a short jumper to give the Pioneers a 56-54 lead.

The Cardinals got the ball up the court and called timeout with 12 seconds left.

The inbounds play didn't go as planned, as a Mesa Grande's pass was tipped and nearly stolen before the Cardinals regained possession and called another timeout with 1.2 seconds left.

The Cardinals clearly wanted to get the ball to Garcia, but couldn't, as she was blanketed by Mungues, Instead, they passed the ball, beating a five-second violation, to another player, who passed it to Garcia. But the final buzzer sounded before she could get off a shot.

"These games are hard on everybody's nerves, but they're really exciting when you win," Bencze said.

Providence got out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, as the Cardinals turned the ball over on their first five possessions and didn't score until the sixth minute when Garcia hit a three.

The Pioneers kept a nine-point edge, 16-7, heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a buzzer-beating jumper from Glorioso.

Mesa Grande cut the deficit to 25-21 before the half thanks to back-to-back buckets from Lauren Bosler and Abbie Tohm in the final 1:38.

"We tried to stay up but they re-upped in the second quarter," Benedicto said. "We had to recharge at halftime but we eventually got it all together."

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