JACKSON – With just under five seconds left on the clock Saturday, Evanston held a 53-51 lead over Kelly Walsh in the regional championship. After losing twice to Kelly Walsh during the regular season, Evanston needed one defensive stop to win.
Danilynn Schell had the inbound pass for Kelly Walsh and lofted the ball toward sophomore post Corrin Carruth, who was standing under the basket. Carruth caught the pass with Evanston senior point guard Tayler Groll guarding her. Carruth stepped past Groll and attempted an under-handed scoop shot — but she lost control of the ball, and it sailed wildy away from the basket and toward the sideline.
The basketball bounced into the stands as time expired on the clock, and Evanston’s victory was complete.
Evanston won just its second girls regional championship in the program’s history — the first came during the 1998-99 season — and will be the No. 1 seed from the Western Conference in this week’s 4A state tournament.
Evanston held a 10-point lead over Kelly Walsh with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Kelly Walsh seniors Hallie Jimenez and Maddy Vinich led the comeback charge for the Trojans with 15 points combined in the final quarter.
Evanston had held a five-point lead over Kelly Walsh back on Feb. 16 with two minutes left on the clock. Kelly Walsh came back to win that game. As the Trojans charged back against Evanston in the regional championship match on Saturday, it looked like a repeat letdown could be in store.
Evanston failed to control an inbound pass with 5.6 seconds left that gave Kelly Walsh the ball for the final play.
“We sort of like to make things interesting,” Evanston senior wing Emmery Wagstaff said. “I think we panicked a little bit, but we got it.”
Wagstaff led the way for Evanston with 24 points against Kelly Walsh after being held to just 10 by Natrona in the win on Friday.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going,” Wagstaff said about the offensive turnaround on Saturday. “Any time I saw an opportunity to shoot it, I shot it with confidence. I just really wanted to win.”
To get to the championship game, Evanston first had to get past Natrona County, a team that had given Evanston fits the last time the teams played.
Natrona led 19-15 at the half of Friday’s semifinal matchup. Evanston outscored the Fillies 14-10 in the third to tie it up heading into the fourth.
After taking a lead, Evanston shot 80 percent from the free-throw line in the final quarter to hold off Natrona, winning 47-41.
“I’m excited for them and proud of them. They played their hearts out,” Evanston head coach Jeremy Fessler said after winning the regional championship.
Cheyenne East is Evanston’s first-round opponent at the state tournament. East defeated Evanston 58-56 on Jan. 6 in the teams’ only meeting.
Despite being a No. 4 seed, East presents a difficult challenge for the newly-crowned Red Devils. Despite not having an over-powering offensive scoring option, East has scrapped out wins in large part due to its rebounding prowess.
In the Jan. 6 game, East out-rebounded Evanston 40-17 — 21 of which came on the offensive glass.
Post players Kalee McEwan and Jazzy Espinoza lead the rebounding attack for East, but, as a whole, the T-Birds attack the glass as a unit.
“The wings are going to play a huge part in (rebounding),” coach Fessler said. “We’ve got to box out. If you’re on the back side as a wing, you’ve got to box out.”
Evanston will play East at Kelly Walsh High School at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday. The game can be listened to online at mylocalradio.com or on the radio at KNYN 99.1 FM.