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The Evanston Wildkits season came to an end on Saturday with a win in the Class 4A third-place game over the Lockport Porters. With this victory, Evanston finished its incredible year with a record of 30-4, and for the first time in five years the Kits played their final games of the season in Peoria. Even though Evanston fell short of its goal of reaching the state championship, Kits head coach Bobby Locke said he was impressed with his team this year. “I am so proud of these guys and the effort they have given me the entire season,” Locke said. “Playing here in Peoria has been great, and even though we did not reach the state championship, that will not take anything away from the unbelievable year that we had.”
The Wildkits’ first game was last Friday, when they took on the Zee-Bees of Zion Benton in the State semifinals. Evanston jumped all over the Zee-Bees in the opening minutes, going on a 12-0 run to start the ballgame. Zion Benton battled back, however, taking a 26-22 lead into halftime after outscoring the Wildkits 15-4 in the second quarter. The back-and-forth game featured ten lead changes in the second half alone.
Late in the fourth quarter, Evanston’s senior guard Zach Morton tied the game at 51 with a 3-pointer with 16.9 seconds to play. Zion Benton had the last possession of the game, but nearly blew its chance when Evanston’s Sean Croegert-Key intercepted a pass with five seconds to go. However, Zion Benton’s Ronald Steward stole the ball back for the Zee-Bees and hit an improbable 40-footer as time expired to seal the game for Zion. The heartbreaking loss for the Kits ended their hopes for a state title.
“Either team could have won that game. It’s too bad one had to lose,” said Zion Benton head coach Donald Kloth. “Evanston did their school and their community proud.”
Coach Locke appreciated the support from the Evanston fans. “It’s a tough way to lose, but what can you do?” he said. “I am proud of the way the Evanston community came out to support us today and throughout the season and the state tournament. It’s really phenomenal.”
Croegert-Key led the way for the Wildkits with 13 points, and senior guard Stephen Rudnicki added 12 points and three assists. Zion’s sophomore forward Lenzelle Smith had 19 points and nine rebounds, both game highs, to lead the Zee-Bees to a 54-51 victory.
Evanston had to rebound from its devastating loss in the semifinals to take on Lockport on Saturday. The Wildkits came out strong against the Porters and were up by seven at halftime. Lockport made a comeback, cutting the lead to 3 with just over a minute to go in the fourth quarter, but the Kits hung on, thanks to clutch rebounding and free-throw shooting. Evanston’s 56-52 victory added some much-needed sweetness to the weekend’s bitter start and meant that the Evanston seniors could finish their careers on a high note.
“It was a nice way to go out,” Morton said. “We were down after the loss on Friday, but we knew it was still important to play hard and win third place. It was great for all of us to play our final game in front of a great crowd and setting here in Peoria.”
The Wildkits’ Class 4A third-place finish will go down as one of the best seasons in school history. On behalf of the entire Evanston community, the RoundTable would like to congratulate Coach Bobby Locke and his team for their incredible and unforgettable season.