After getting the 2019-20 season off to a shaky start, the Evanston girls’ basketball team rebounded in a big way over the weekend, posting a 3-0 record at the Flaming Gorge Classic in Green River and Rock Springs.
The Lady Devils opened the tournament Thursday with a 48-32 win over Rawlins, then followed that Friday with a 44-28 win over Cheyenne South.
Saturday’s game against Laramie was a barnburner, with the Lady Plainsmen forcing overtime before the Lady Devils secured the win 43-40.
“I thought we played under control, and we certainly figured some things out over the week,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “We went hard at them trying to fix our defense, and we worked a lot on our half-court offense. We did those drills every day last week, and it paid off over the weekend. The girls are taking things that we’re practicing during the week and applying them in the games, which is really nice to see.”
Lady Devils 48, Rawlins 32
Evanston opened the Flaming Gorge Classic against Rawlins, the No. 4 team in Class 3A. The Lady Devils started the game strong, building a 23-8 lead by halftime. But the Lady Outlaws refused to go down without a fight, going on a 16-0 run to start the third and briefly taking the lead by a point at 24-23.
“I called a timeout and said, ‘OK, this is a great challenge for us, how are we going to respond to this?’” Fessler explained. “The girls came back and responded, made shots and started rebounding the ball. They really finished strong.”
Evanston outscored Rawlins 13-6 in the fourth quarter to walk away with the 48-32 win.
Senior Zocia Nowakowski paced the Red Devils with her first double-double of the season, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Stacia Barker and Heidi Barton followed with seven points apiece. Taryn Wagstaff led the team in assists with three.
Lady Devils 44, Cheyenne South 28
Riding the momentum from their first win of the season the day before, it was a motivated team that took the court Friday against Class 4A foe Cheyenne South. It was a back-and-forth contest for the first quarter, with the Lady Bison holding an early edge 13-12.
The Lady Devils battled back to take a 19-18 lead at the break, then exploded in the third quarter, going on a 17-6 run en route to a 44-38 win.
“Once again, they [South] tried to pressure us at the beginning, and our guards did a good job of handling that pressure,” Fessler said. “I think we wore their guards down, we started getting some steals up top and getting some easy baskets underneath. Shots just fell at the end, and we did a nice job defensively again.”
Amber Lowe led the way in scoring for the Lady Devils, netting 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Zocia Nowakowski finished with 10 points, while Taryn Wagstaff chipped in nine.
Despite scoring just two points, sophomore Stacia Barker played well underneath, leading the team with eight rebounds and blocking four shots.
Fessler said solid defense was key throughout the weekend, keeping the team in games when shots refused to fall.
“In each game, we had a five or six-minute stretch where we don’t score,” he said. “We’ve gotta have someone say, ‘Enough is enough, give me the ball and let’s slow things down and get a good look.’ We’re still working on that, but our defense is what kept us in those games. That first weekend in Gillette, we didn’t have that to hang our hats on.”
Lady Devils 43, Laramie 40 OT
Evanston closed out the tournament Saturday with a scrappy performance against Laramie, overcoming a few late-game miscues to win the game in overtime 43-40.
“Playing scrappy is sort of what we’re known for — if you’re not scrappy, you’re probably not going to be playing for the Lady Devils,” Fessler said. “That game — you cannot place a value on the experience you get out of games like that. We should have finished the game off in regulation, but we didn’t convert our free throws late.”
Laramie jumped out to an early 11-5 lead in the first quarter, and appeared to have the stronger squad. But the Lady Devils dialed in during the second, going on a 15-1 run to take a 20-12 lead at the break.
The Lady Bison clawed back into the game in the third with a 10-2 run of their own, tying the game at 22-22 heading into the final frame. The two teams battled to an 11-11 stalemate in the fourth, forcing overtime.
“Laramie took the lead first in OT, but we just kept fighting,” Fessler said. “Those situations that that tournament put us in is just going to help us at the end of the year.”
Zocia Nowakowski finished with her second double-double of the tournament, netting 10 points and grabbing 11 boards.
“Zocia struggled through the first three quarters, and then she woke up big, I think she had eight points in OT,” Fessler said. “She was making her free throws.”
Taryn Wagstaff led Evanston with 12 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, while Amber Lowe finished with 10 points.
Stacia Barker had another nice game, scoring six points and grabbing a team-high 13 rebounds.
“Our bigs played really well for us,” Fessler said. “Stacia [Barker] didn’t score a lot, but she’s rebounding the heck out of the ball, just attacking those boards.”
Maggie Moore, Nowakowski and Wagstaff dished off three assists apiece, while Lowe had a pair of steals.
“Amber [Lowe] and Taryn [Wagstaff] both played really well,” Fessler said. “They scored for us and kept control of the game, and they pressured those guards defensively. And Heidi Barton is coming off the bench, and she’s quick with the ball and giving us good minutes. Everyone is starting to figure out their role and what they need to do to help the team.”
The Lady Devils will have a short break for the holidays and then get right back at it next week, with the Taco John’s Invitational in Cheyenne looming on the horizon Jan. 9-11.
“We’re going to work on implementing a little half-court trap before the Cheyenne tournament, give the team a different look,” Fessler said. “Right now, we’re sort of one-dimensional. We’ll work on our pressure defenses as well over the break, and then a lot of free throws and shooting.”
“The girls just play so hard,” Fessler added. “I’m just tickled with the improvements that we’ve made from week to week.”