CASPER – With a minute left in the first quarter on Saturday, Evanston trailed Kelly Walsh 10-3. The Red Devils were playing the Trojans at Kelly Walsh High School in the third place match in the 4A state tournament. The location was the same place where Kelly Walsh had upset Evanston 52-51 on Feb. 16 to end the Red Devils’ undefeated conference season.
Senior Evanston guard Chase Critchfield was fouled twice in the final minute of the opening quarter and hit three of his five free throws. Then Seth Lloyd — with Evanston trailing 12-6 — hit an open 3 with three seconds left to pull Evanston within one possession to end the first quarter. That seemed to be the point in which Evanston woke up on Saturday afternoon. Evanston defeated Kelly Walsh 47-40 to claim third place at state.
Evanston finished the 2017-18 season with a 21-5 record — the best in 4A — but came up one win shy of a chance for a state title.
Evanston did not have an easy path to even get through day one of the state tournament. On Thursday, Evanston took on Central, a team that had as much or more height across its lineup as Evanston.
Central came out of the gates hot, and Evanston had trouble keeping up. Central’s Daniel Shumway lit it up in the opening quarter with eight points, and Evanston trailed 20-11 after the first.
The Red Devils started to clamp down defensively in the second quarter, and closed the gap to 33-30 at halftime.
4A-West co-Conference Players of the Year Braxton Hiatt and Chase Critchfield combined for 15 points in the third quarter and helped Evanston tie the game up at 48-48 heading into the final quarter.
Hiatt finished with a game-high 22 points, and led Evanston with eight in the fourth quarter, as the Red Devils pulled away to win 64-55.
The Red Devils took on Campbell County on Friday in the state semifinals — led by two-time Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year Trey Hladky.
Campbell County — the eventual 4A state champion — looked unlike any team Evanston had taken on all season. The Camels’ offense relied almost exclusively on 3-point shooting and ran without anyone playing in the post.
Evanston ran one of the slowest-paced offenses throughout the year. The Camels ran the most frantic.
Through the first quarter of Friday’s game, it became clear that the matchup’s tempo would be dictated by the run-and-gun Campbell County’s style.
After trailing by nine after the first quarter, Evanston cut the deficit to three and trailed 29-26 at halftime. However, Campbell County’s star point guard took control of the game in the third.
Hladky scored 11 of Gillette’s 27 points in the third and led Evanston 56-43.
In a game where Evanston needed outside shooting, the Devils found few answers. Evanston shot just 2-of-10 from 3 to Campbell County’s 12-of-28 clip from long range.
No one shot a higher percentage from 3 throughout the regular season than Evanston’s Critchfield, but he went 0-of-2 from 3 and shot just 2-of-12 from the field.
Campbell County went on to win the state championship on Saturday, 71-61, over Sheridan behind 43 points by Hladky.
The third-place finish by Evanston is the program’s best since winning back-to-back state championships in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. In two seasons under head coach Lex Cornia, the Red Devils have had back-to-back, two-win trips to state. The Red Devils won the consolation championship game last year over Cheyenne East.