By Don Cogger
Herald Sports Editor
The Evanston High School boys’ basketball team was originally scheduled to knock off the holiday rust at the Taco John’s Invite in Cheyenne over the weekend, squaring off against some of the top teams in 4A.
Old Man Winter had other plans. Treacherous driving conditions across the state convinced EHS administrators to pull the plug on the trip just hours before the team was to depart, leaving the disappointed Red Devils scrambling to find another tournament. Thankfully, the Fossil Country Classic in Kemmerer had a sudden opening when Little Snake River was forced to bow out.
“There were a whole lot of unknowns going into this weekend,” said EHS head coach Rob Watsabaugh. “We tried to get out of town a couple of times, and when we finally did, it got shut back down. The decision was made Friday morning not to head to Cheyenne, and when that happened, Bubba [O’Neill, EHS activities director] made some phone calls for us, and we were able to slide into Little Snake River’s spot at the Kemmerer tournament. We were just happy to get a couple of games in.”
The Red Devils opened the tournament against host Kemmerer, overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit to squeeze out a 51-48 win. Evanston followed that with a hard-fought 47-40 win Saturday morning against 1A Cokeville to improve to 3-5 on the season.
The Red Devils have a busy week ahead, starting with their first conference game Tuesday at Rock Springs. Watsabaugh said after watching film on the Tigers, the key to victory will be defense.
“Rock Springs doesn’t play super-fast —- they have a good guard in Brock Bider, and some size and strength inside with Isaac Schoenfeld,” he said. “We’re going to have to zero in on those two guys and make them have a tough night. We have to make them take contested shots, and we need to be able to block out and rebound, keep them out of the paint so they can’t pound it inside. We need to do a good job protecting the paint, and remember that it’s conference play —- everybody needs to step up.”
Red Devils 51,
Friday’s contest against Kemmerer was a battle from the start, with the Rangers using home court advantage to build a 30-22 lead by halftime.
“Kemmerer challenged us a little bit with their height —- we were under-sized for sure,” Watsabaugh said. “I thought our guys showed up, and we ended up coming out on top. I told the guys at the half, ‘In order to get back in this, we have to get three stops in a row.’ We ended up doing that twice in the second half, and that enabled us to get back in the game.”
Kemmerer’s shooting went cold at about the same time the Red Devils’ defense began to heat up, allowing Evanston to claw back in the game. When the dust settled, the Red Devils came out on top, 51-48.
“I thought it was a really good game —- it was back and forth,” Watsabaugh said. “We battled, and got some stops when we needed to. We also hit some shots —- I think we had four guys in double digits, which meant we were sharing the basketball.”
EHS senior Cooper Morrow got the start for the Red Devils and made the most of the opportunity, hitting three shots from behind the arc en route to a team-high 15 points. Fellow seniors Junior Zermeno and Jake Robinette netted 10 points apiece, followed by eight points from Kai Barker.
“We had some guys show up and do some things they hadn’t necessarily done this year,” Watsabaugh said. “I think that helped grow their confidence a little bit —- doing some stuff that they know they can do, it just hasn’t happened yet in a game scenario. A few guys were able to do that this weekend, which was good.”
Red Devils 47,
The Red Devils ran into a determined Cokeville squad Saturday morning, and the Panthers gave their 4A counterparts all they could handle, though Evanston eventually came out on top 47-40.
“We started off really slow —- I think we got down 10 points in the first quarter,” Watsabaugh said. “We came back with a little bit of energy in the second half, and it ended up being an 18-point swing for us. Our second quarter and our fourth quarter, our defense was incredible, I think we held them to nine or 10 points in both of those quarters. Our defense really stepped up.”
“Offensively, we struggled a little bit,” Watsabaugh said. “We finally got some inside-outs, and our bigs were able to get two feet in the paint and go up and score. Scoring was pretty balanced —- Kai Barker and Jake Robinette played really well inside, Noah Conrad hit a couple of shots, as did Junior Zermeno. Tanner Newsome hit a wide-open, inside-out 3-pointer. I think our team understands that that’s what we need to do to be successful —- share the basketball, and get the best look that we can.”