The Evanston Wildkits, who were ranked #5 in the State and had the top seed in their sectional heading into the playoffs, opened their postseason with back-to-back victories to take the regional crown for the second consecutive season. The Wildkits will now head home to Evanston Township High School, where the team is undefeated this season, for the sectional rounds of the playoffs.
“We are just thrilled that we will be playing our sectional games at our own gym,” said head coach Bobby Locke. “We have not lost at home all season, and we are excited to try and keep it that way in front of our fans in a playoff setting.”
E-Town earned the right to play at home for the sectional title by beating Niles North and Prospect at the regionals. The postseason started for Evanston on Feb. 26 as they took on the Vikings of Niles North, who had the benefit of playing in their home gym as host of the regional games.
The Kits jumped on Niles North early, building a solid double-digit lead heading into halftime. Evanston cruised in the second half against their conference foe, winning 75-49. The team was led by senior forward Travis Clark, who had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“We came out real strong in the opening minutes, which we sometimes have trouble doing,” Coach Locke said. “I think we were just so anxious to get the playoffs started we came out with an energy in the first game that could not be matched. We have been talking about the playoffs for a long time now, and these guys are determined to play their best basketball right now, when the games matter most.”
With the win last Tuesday, the Kits earned a trip to the regional finals against Prospect on Feb. 29. Once again, Evanston came out of the gates strong and were up by as many as 17 at one point in the second quarter. In the second half, however, Prospect made a comeback led by their senior sharp-shooter, Jeff Heiden, who had a game-high 24 points, including 7 three-pointers.
“He was a great shooter and he played with a lot of confidence,” said senior guard Zach Morton, who had 13 points on the night for the Wildkits.
The Knights pulled to within four points in the fourth quarter but clutch free-throw shooting helped Evanston hang on for a 63-58 win. “We learned our lesson,” said Morton. “We thought we had the game won before the very end, and that was a foolish mistake. I don’t think we’ll do that again.”
Stephen Rudnicki led the way with 17 points and was a perfect 7 of 7 from the free-throw line, helping the Kits close out the game.
The Kits now move on to the sectional playoffs. The top-seeded Wildkits are playing in a section that has seen a few upsets, as Von Steuben and New Trier, both ranked in the top 25, have already lost.
“We know that there have been many upsets in the early rounds of the playoffs, but we can only focus on our game,” said Coach Locke. “As the number one seed, we have a target on our backs. Every team we face is going to give us their all and we always have to come ready to play. Any team in this sectional can beat any other team. Seeds, rankings, and stuff like that do not mean anything anymore. We just need to play our game, which has gotten us to this point”
They had their first sectional game last night against Loyola, after this publication went to press. Should the Wildkits defeat the Ramblers, they will play on Friday against either Maine East or Hersey for the sectional championship. Tip-off will be at 7:30 p.m. at Evanston’s Beardsley Gym.