It’s a new season.
Evanston’s 9-1 run through conference play kept the team out of Thursday’s single-elimination matches. But the Red Devils are guaranteed nothing more than a No. 4 seeding into next week’s state tournament.
The result of Thursday’s game between Natrona County and Green River was not known as of press time, but regardless of its opponent, Evanston knows it’s in for a difficult 4A West regional semifinal contest tonight at 8:30 p.m.
Evanston is 4-0 combined against Green River and Natrona this season, but the most recent contests against both were just five-point victories.
Green River took Evanston into overtime by way of a late-game run. Natrona County also mounted a late comeback.
Natrona is not a team that usually shoots at a high percentage and converted on just 25 percent of its field goals in the Feb. 17 loss. Rebounding, though, was a difference maker, as Natrona bested Evanston in that category 36-to-25.
Rebounding is something head coach Lex Cornia and his staff put an emphasis on in the final week of the regular season, but a failure to improve upon the last game’s differential would likely the biggest reason the Red Devils could face an upset against the Casper team.
Against Green River, Evanston faces a team that does not shoot the ball from 3 very well but instead relies upon finding open holes in the defense and slashing through them for buckets from close range. Evanston has, at times, dealt with foul trouble throughout the season, but never more so than against Green River in the Feb. 9 overtime win.
In that game, Evanston played the entire overtime period with four players on the court all having four fouls apiece.
Despite drawing so many fouls as a result of its aggressive offensive style, Green River shot just 49 percent from the line in that game. A better performance from the free-throw line could have meant a win for Green River — and the Evanston staff knows it can’t rely on a repeat of struggles from this Wolves team that headed into the tournament trying to earn its first state bid since 2009.
The pressure of earning a high state seeding is still on the minds of everyone on this boys’ program but not needing to play one more game to earn a spot at the dance was a goal coach Cornia didn’t underestimate all year long. Evanston was the third seed last year -- Cornia’s first as head coach -- and had an early scare against No. 6 Jackson.
“I’m glad we’ve punched our ticket because we had the stress of last year when we went down 11-0 to Jackson in the first quarter,” he said. “It goes to show that anything can happen in those games.”
Evanston’s regional semifinal game tonight at 8:30 can be listened to online at mylocalradio.com or on the radio at KNYN 99.1 FM.