Despite a good chunk of the roster battling a bug they can’t seem to shake, the Evanston High School girls’ basketball team ended their non-conference schedule on a winning note over the weekend, dispatching a pair of the top five teams in 3A to improve to 5-6.
“It was a good momentum-builder heading into the start of conference season, so it was much-needed,” said EHS head coach Jeremy Fessler. “There are about six or seven girls on the team who are sick and coughing, so that was a struggle.”
The Lady Devils welcomed Class 3A No. 2 Mountain View Friday for their first home game of the season, going down to the wire with the Lady Buffalos before holding on for a 31-30 win. That was followed by another nail-biter Saturday at No. 5 Lyman, with Evanston’s Zocia Nowakowski hitting a shot at the buzzer to win 50-48.
“We weren’t perfect by any means, but we did enough to hold on,” Fessler said. “Both games were a total team effort, and the girls played their hearts out.”
Lady Devils 31,
Mountain View 30
Playing Friday in the friendly confines of the EHS Gym for the first time this season, the Lady Devils used a smothering defense to hold Mountain View in check, especially in the first half. Evanston held a slim 6-5 lead after one quarter, but went on a 10-2 run in the second to lead 16-7 at the break.
“Defensively, we were very solid the whole first half,” Fessler said. “There were literally two or three possessions where we were changing our defense on the fly, and I think we really kept them [Mountain View] off balance. Our girls really locked in defensively.”
The Lady Buffs showed why they’re the No. 2 team in 3A to start the second half, cutting Evanston’s lead to six at 25-19 after three quarters of play. The Lady Devils only scored six points in the final quarter to Mountain View’s 11, but were able to hold on for the 31-30 win.
“I think we shot 25 percent from the field, 1-for-15 from three,” Fessler said. “Then we missed our last four free throws. We talked after the game about how we have to close out those close games a heck of a lot better than that as we go forward in the season.”
Zocia Nowakowski paced the Lady Devils with nine points, to go along with seven rebounds. Stacia Barker was a bucket away from a double-double, netting eight points and pulling down 11 boards. Amber Lowe finished with six points, while Maggie Moore, Kambree Brown and Taryn Holt finished with two points each.
Lady Devils 50,
With starters Maggie Moore and Zocia Nowakowski battling the brunt of the flu bug headed into Saturday’s contest at Lyman, Fessler said he worried neither one would be able to suit up, let alone play.
But play they did, and along with their teammates turned in the team’s gutsiest performance of the season so far.
“All the way up to about the three-minute mark [before tipoff], we weren’t sure if Zocia would be able to play,” he said. “But she decided to give it a go, and she was like Michael Jordan against the Utah Jazz out there.”
Nowakowski finished the game with 21 points, including the game winner at the buzzer off a pass from Amber Lowe. Of the 19 points the Lady Devils had at halftime, Nowakowski accounted for 15 of them.
“She just carried us throughout that first half, even though she didn’t have her usual energy,” Fessler added. “But without her, we wouldn’t have been in that game at all.”
Unlike the night before against Mountain View, Evanston struggled defensively against the Lady Eagles, trailing 22-19 at the half. Lyman continued to hit shots in the third, pushing their lead to 37-29 heading into the final frame.
But just as it seemed the Lady Eagles had all the momentum, Evanston exploded for 21 points in the fourth, sparked by junior Heidi Barton.
“We were struggling defensively the whole time, and thankfully Heidi Barton woke up there at the end and hit some big shots for us down the stretch. She hit a big three, then Zocia hit the game winner.”
Seanna Ellingford got the fourth quarter off to a seemingly inauspicious start, called for a travel on the Lady Devils’ first possession. But the junior made up for it just seconds later as she grabbed a loose ball in the Lyman end and took it the length of the court for a score.
That shot, coupled with a quick four points by Lowe, gave Evanston some much-needed momentum.
Evanston took its first lead of the contest with just over two minutes left in the game, though Lyman wasted no time in bringing the score back to even. With seven seconds left and the score knotted at 48-48, Barton brought the ball upcourt and passed it down to Lowe in the corner. Lowe attempted to drive into the paint, but was met by a wall of Lyman defenders; she dished off to Nowakowski underneath at the last second who banked in the shot at the buzzer. As the Lyman faithful sat stunned, the Lady Devils flooded the court to celebrate the 50-48 win.
Zowakowski had seven rebounds to go along with her 21 points, while Barton finished with eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Lowe added seven points, while Taryn Wagstaff and Seanna Ellingford chipped in four points apiece.
Stacia Barker netted just two points, but led the team in rebounds with eight. Moore and Wagstaff each dished off three assists, while Barton finished with two steals.
With the Lady Devils facing a battle of attrition because of a pesky flu bug, Fessler credited his role players for stepping up when they were needed the most.
“We played a lot of girls in back-to-back games because of players being sick,” he said. “Whether a girl played two minutes like Mia Barker, or a girl played a lot, it was a complete team effort to hang in there and get that win. They kept battling and battling, and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Evanston opens conference play on the road Thursday at Green River.
The Lady Wolves lead the 4A Southwest Quadrant with an 8-4 record, and Fessler said it will be a test.
“We have a huge test — if Green River isn’t the top team in the west right now, they’re definitely in the top two,” he said. “They have fantastic players — they’re big and they’re deep. It’s going to be a challenge.”