Penguins cash in

Lordstown’s Cash scores 24; YSU?holds off Milwaukee

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State's Sarah Cash is guarded by Milwaukee's Steph Kostowicz Sunday in the Horizon League quarterfinal game at Detroit.

DETROIT — Through three quarters, this was Youngstown State’s floor.

This Penguins women’s basketball team slowly built confidence, making this NBA floor at Little Caesars Arena — home of the Horizon League Tournament — theirs and theirs alone.

The Penguins looked like the team that won 20-plus games two seasons ago. YSU was ahead of Milwaukee by 15 points early in the fourth quarter. It seemed like a trip to the tournament semifinals was theirs, no questions asked.

This is the same Milwaukee team that has played YSU during the season when the difference in both games was five or fewer points. This Panthers team didn’t give up, but they couldn’t overcome the willpower of the Penguins in the Horizon League quarterfinals, 62-58.

YSU senior point guard Indiya Benjamin took it upon herself to make sure things wouldn’t go the way of the Panthers. It was her time. She wasn’t going to be denied.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Youngstown State's Indiya Benjamin looks to pass to teammate Nikki Arbanas during Sunday's game in Detroit.

Fourth-seeded Milwaukee went on an 21-3 run with less than 4 minutes remaining and the Panthers took a 51-48 lead on Jamie Reit’s 3-pointer.

Fifth-seeded YSU (15-14) countered Milwaukee’s massive fourth-quarter run with an 11-2 spurt of its own to make it 59-53 with a minute left on Benjamin’s 3-pointer. She finished with 13 points.

YSU coach John Barnes talked about this kind of situation with Benjamin, one of the team’s only seniors. Was she going to win it or lose it?

“If I’m going to go out, I’m going out swinging,” said Barnes, whose team faces top-seeded Green Bay in a semifinal at 1 p.m. today. “I don’t want to put it in the hands of anybody else if this is my last game.”

YSU’s Sarah Cash missed two shots from the line with 21 seconds left. YSU clung to a 59-55 lead.

Milwaukee (20-10) cut the Penguins lead to 60-58 with 10 seconds left. The Panthers hammered it inside, just as they had all game long.

The ball finally trickled into Steph Kostowicz’s hands. The Milwaukee post, who was held to five points (nine less than her average), looped around Cash and had her layup go on and off the rim. Cash grabbed the rebound and Kostowicz picked up her fifth foul.

Cash went back to the line. This time she sank both free throws.

Lordstown native Cash had a game-high 24 points and took on everything Milwaukee’s posts, Jenny Linder (14 points, 15 rebounds) and Kostowicz, gave her.

Cash, who came off the bench, was 9 of 21 with eight rebounds — four offensive and defensive.

“It’s a huge reason why we won the game,” Barnes said of Cash. “I’m very proud of her.”

Linder had problems with Natalie Myers, who played more minutes due to a season-ending injury to YSU senior Kelley Wright. Myers had 12 points, all 3-pointers, off the bench.

Linder saw firsthand Cash’s play and was part of a very physical game, especially in the post.

“We both just wanted it,” Linder said. “Sarah wanted it really bad. She played awesome for her team. It was a tough battle out there tonight. If anything, that was the difference tonight.”

Barnes was asking for his team to show some toughness during the Panthers’ late run. It was the same kind of mettle which built a lead for more than three quarters. It was the same as the effot that got YSU nine wins in its last 11 games.

These Penguins would not fall after being almost toppled by a team which knows YSU so well.

“They’re, to be honest with you, probably the hottest team in the league right now with the way that they’re playing,” Milwaukee coach Kyle Rechlicz said.