The Evanston High School boys’ hoops team continued to play inspired basketball over the weekend, downing a pair of 4A Northwest Quadrant foes at home, and running their current win streak to three games.
The Red Devils began the weekend with a 47-36 win over Natrona County Friday night, then followed that Saturday with a double-overtime thriller against Rock Springs, outlasting the Tigers 42-40. With the wins, Evanston improved to 5-7 on the season, 2-1 in the Southwest Quadrant.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said EHS head coach Rob Watsabaugh. “They played good games back-to-back Friday and Saturday. We showed up, and I thought we executed very well in both games.”
The Red Devils hosted a rematch against Mountain View on Tuesday; they’ll be on the road this weekend, with games scheduled at Cody Friday and Riverton Saturday.
“We’ll be on the road, looking to steal a couple of road wins this weekend,” Watsabaugh said. “Hopefully, our defense will keep us in games, and give us a shot to win. We need to play disciplined basketball on both sides of the floor, rebounding well, and making them take tough, contested shots. Add to that a balanced attack on offense, and that will be our general game plan.”
Red Devils 47,
Natrona County 36
The home team found themselves short a man for Friday’s contest against Natrona County (3-9, 0-3 in NW Quadrant), with first-year head coach Rob Watsabaugh quarantined at home. Assistant coaches Matt Johnson and Steven Neal — along with team manager Caden Frye — proved up to the task at hand, however, guiding the Red Devils to a 47-36 win.
“Those three stepped up in my absence last week, and did an excellent job,” Watsabaugh said. “They ran practice, and set things up so I could watch practice. That’s who we are — we’re a team as a staff, as well. I’m happy that the team was able to step up in my absence, and continue to play the right way.”
EHS senior Jagger Mitchell got the Red Devils off to a hot start, scoring his team’s first eight points, though Evanston trailed 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. Mitchell continued to knock down shots in the second, as the Red Devils outscored Natrona 12-6 to lead 24-22 at the break. Mitchell led all scorers at the half with 16 points.
“Jagger Mitchell got hot early, knocking down 3-pointers — I think he had five in the first half,” Watsabaugh said. “We were a little more balanced after that, but his shooting kind of stretched the defense and let us operate.”
After giving up a 3-pointer — and the lead — to start the third, the Red Devils went on a 10-0 run, taking a 34-25 lead at the end of three. Evanston pushed their lead to 11 in the final frame, outscoring the Mustangs 13-11 to win 47-36.
“Defensively, I thought we played pretty well — we were getting stops, and rebounding the ball well,” Watsabaugh said. “We played well on both sides of the ball.”
Mitchell paced the Red Devils with 17 points, including 12 points from behind the arc; he also grabbed seven rebounds. Braxton Lind followed with 12 points, to go along with eight boards; Wade Bowen also finished with eight rebounds, to go along with six points.
Lind has been on an offensive tear of late, though the senior is quick to deflect praise to his teammates.
“I think at the start of the season, I was still trying to play the role that I had the last two years — a distributor and more of a defensive than offensive guy,” he said. “But I started to realize that my role needed to change into more of a scorer for our team and more of a leader on the defensive end...I also think that the group of guys we have, anyone can go off on any given night.”
Junior Zermeno, Carson Wall, Stetson Wiedrich and Burke Thomas scored three points apiece, with Thomas and Wall tied for the team lead in assists, with four each.
“We’ve done a much better job lately of limiting our turnovers,” Watsabaugh said. “We’ve been seeing the press all year — both in games, and at practice — and we’ve seen improvement in that area. I still think we can continue to improve, but we’ve been handling the basketball much better.”
Red Devils 40,
Rock Springs 40 2OT
Saturday’s game against Rock Springs (2-10, 2-1 in NW Quadrant) featured yet another memorable finish in this I-80 rivalry, with the Red Devils able to outlast the Tigers in double overtime, 42-40. EHS head coach Rob Watsabaugh was cleared to return to action Saturday morning, and was back on the sidelines for the win.
“I thought we played a pretty good defensive game against Rock Springs,” Watsabaugh said. “We made them take tough shots. That’s a tough offense to guard, especially since we’d never seen it before.”
Evanston was sluggish out of the gate, spotting the Tigers a 12-6 first-quarter lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as a 3-pointer by senior Braxton Lind to start the second quarter sparked a 7-0 run, giving the Red Devils their first lead of the game at 13-12. Lind had a game-high 10 points in the first half, pacing Evanston to a 20-17 lead at the break.
“I thought our guys adjusted well — we rebounded well, and took care of the ball,” Watsasbaugh said. “I think we only had two or three turnovers in the first half. Second half kinda gave us some fits, and we gave the ball to them with some empty possessions.
Rock Springs retook the lead early in the third, though the Red Devils battled back late in the frame with a 6-0 run, closing out the third with a 28-25 lead.
The Tigers opened the fourth quarter with a 6-3 run, taking a 31-30 lead with five minutes to play in regulation; they pushed that lead to six at 36-30, with 16 seconds left on the clock. Lind’s 3-pointer with six seconds to play cut the lead to 36-33; a quick foul put Rock Springs’ Brock Bider on the line, setting the stage for a wild finish. Wade Bowen grabbed the rebound off Bider’s missed foul shot and kicked the ball out to Burke Thomas. Thomas heaved the ball just as he crossed half court, sinking the shot as time expired and sending the game to overtime. It was the second clutch finish in as many weeks for Thomas, who had the confidence of his coach on the sidelines.
“I keep telling him [Burke Thomas], ‘Just keep a level head, and if your shot’s there, and you’re on balance, let it fly,’” Watsabaugh said. “He has confidence in every shot he takes, even at the free throw line. I want him to be a steady player for us, on both sides of the ball.”
Though he’s made it look routine lately, Thomas shrugged off the notion of being the go-to guy in crunch time.
“I do like to have the ball in my hands,” he said. “But I would trust anyone on the team to have it, as well. I really just focus on what I’m doing, instead of how big of the situation it is.”
The score was still knotted at the end of the first overtime at 38-38. Thomas scored the first points of the second overtime, a layup off a nice feed by Lind. Rock Springs tied it 40-40 on their next possession, then fouled Jagger Mitchell at the opposite end of the floor, putting him at the line for two. Mitchell sank both to give Evanston a 42-40 lead, and that would prove to be all the Red Devils needed, holding on for the win.
“Burke hit his shot to get us into overtime,” Watsabaugh said. “From there, it was kind of a grind-out game. I’m proud of our guys for sticking to it, playing that extra eight minutes and pulling out the win.”
Lind led the Red Devils with 16 points, to go along with eight rebounds and four steals. Thomas also finished in double figures, netting 11 points; Wiedrich and Mitchell chipped in five points apiece.
Bowen added three points, but dominated the boards, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking four shots.