Lady Devils still in search of elusive first win of season

Lady Devil sophomore Kendall Fessler finished with five points and led the team in steals, with three. (HERALD PHOTO/Don Cogger)

For one half of basketball Thursday night, the Evanston High School girls’ basketball team appeared poised to finally break into the win column, leading Green River 20-19 at the break.

The Lady Devils were unable to sustain that level of play over the final two quarters, however, falling to their 4A Southwest Quadrant rivals at home, 48-36. The loss dropped Evanston to 0-9 on the season, 0-1 in conference play.

“I thought the first half, we followed our game plan — the girls did a nice job,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “We still struggled with turnovers — I think we had 14 at the break. But we limited those, as far as Green River scoring off our turnovers, which helped us out in the first half.”

Green River (6-3, 2-0 in conference) pressed early and often, though the Lady Devils did a nice job of working through it in the first quarter. The Lady Wolves went on a 12-4 run to start the game, but Evanston answered with a 6-0 run of their own to close out the first quarter, with a 3-pointer by Kendell Fessler and a 3-point play by Mia Barker that cut the lead to two at 12-10.

Green River pushed its lead to 15-10 to start the second quarter, but three points from Stacia Barker at the foul line, and a 3-pointer by Malia Wilson gave the Lady Devils their first lead of the game at 16-10. Wilson and Stacia Barker closed out the first half with a basket each, and Evanston took a 20-19 lead into the locker room.

“We’ve been working hard on breaking the press in practice, and we were starting to make better reads,” Fessler said. “We’re trying to get it out of our hands too quick, instead of being strong, and letting girls find open areas. We just want to get rid of that ball. But we got it to the middle, and Stacia did a nice job — we’d throw it up to her, and she’d get it up to where it needed to go.”

Unable to carry that momentum into the second half, the Lady Devils were outscored 13-6 in the third quarter, as Green River’s press began to take its toll.

“We had seven possessions in the third quarter, and five turnovers,” Fessler said. “Those proved costly, because Green River scored right out of them. They had six quick points right off of turnovers on our end. It went to a 12-point lead in a hurry, and we had too many empty possessions. You can’t have empty possessions against a good team like that.”

Evanston battled back in the fourth, though they were unable to get the stops needed to pose a legitimate threat. The Lady Wolves added 16 points in the final frame to return home with the 48-36 win. Turnovers were again a factor, as the Lady Devils finished with 29 for the game.

“In that third and fourth quarter, Green River started hitting shots,” Fessler said. “We were taking away their pick-and-roll, which was our game plan. But they adjusted, and started to swing it to the backside. Stacia was our cover for the pick-and-roll, and her girl hit two threes on us. It’s asking Stacia a lot to get from the ball side all the way to the back side — we should have had a guard rotating out to that first pass, so that’s something we have to fix. They probably scored 20 of their points against our half-court defense; the rest were off turnovers.”

Stacia Barker finished the game with a double-double, netting 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Fessler and Wilson followed with five points apiece; Fessler led the team in steals, with three. Emily Sawyer and Mia Barker added four points and three points, respectively; Barker grabbed four boards and dished off three assists.

“I thought our half-court offense was much better this game,” Fessler said. “But once again, it was getting the ball into that half-court offense that we struggled with, especially in the second half. We’re still a work in progress, we’re still moving girls in and out, trying to find the best combination.”

The Lady Devils shot 20% from behind the arc, hitting two 3-pointers on 10 attempts.

“You watch Green River, and they had five 3-pointers that second half to build that lead,” Fessler explained. “We had none. We hit two 3-pointers early on, and we had nothing outside again in the second half. That needs to change for us to be successful.”

Evanston was also without their starting point guard in Heidi Barton, who missed her second straight game due to injury. Fessler said he’s hoping to have Barton back by the weekend, though he’s been pleased with how his bench has stepped up to fill the gap.

“It’s sort of guard-by-committee right now, until we can get Heidi back,” Fessler said. “We may have her back this week in a limited fashion, which will help with our guard play. But getting the ball up the court has to be a team effort — each of them doing their job, coming to the ball, not hiding — and I thought we did a much better job at that.”

The Lady Devils have a pair of conference games scheduled for this week, beginning with Star Valley (2-6, 1-0 in conference) Thursday, in Afton; they’ll be back in the friendly confines of Red Devil Gymnasium Saturday to square off against Jackson (1-9, 0-2 in conference).

“These are two huge games for us, as far as seeding goes,” Fessler said. “You want to get the highest seeding you can heading into that quadrant tournament we’re having at the end of the year.”

As for what the team will work on in practice this week, Fessler said taking care of the ball continues to be priority one.

“I guarantee that any team that plays us is going to press us. We’ll continue to focus on making good passes, coming to the ball, that sort of thing. We have to be more consistent getting to our spots, and handling that pressure. I really believe that if we can handle some pressure — and actually score some transition buckets out of that pressure — you’re going to see a completely different team.”

“We talked to the girls about consistency — if we can be consistent for a full game, and not let the pressure wear us down, we can play with anybody,” he added. “If we can take care of that ball a little bit better, we’re going to find success.”

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