After a tough win against Maine South by the score of 41-36 two weeks before, Coach Locke’s ball club knew they were in for a battle against their biggest rival, New Trier, on Dec. 12. In front of a big crowd in Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena and a live televised broadcast, the Kits showed signs they were not as ready for prime time as the Trevians. After the Trevians won the opening tip off, it took only three seconds for 6’9″ center Fred Heldring to kick it out to 6’5″ star guard Alex Rossi for the opening 3 points of the game. New Trier never looked back.
Just three days before the game, the Trevians had suffered a tough loss against Niles West, giving up a late double-digit lead and eventually losing 57-55 in the final seconds. So the Kits came into their game against the Trevians with a lot of confidence, and the Trevians seemed to have lost theirs. But new Coach Scott Fricke gathered his troops and fought hard for a 65-51 win.
The Kits made many early mistakes as they were down by as much as 17 points in the second quarter and down 32-19 at halftime. The main struggle seemed to be the Trevians’ relentless 3-2 zone that forced Evanston to take deep 3 point shots and made it difficult for the Kits to get the ball inside to their big men. The Kits were 0-10 behind the line in the first half.
The Trevians’ star of the game was heavily recruited junior Alex Rossi, who scored 20 points; most of his shots were either highly contested or had an extremely high level of difficulty. The Trevians also got big help from senior guard Sean Stanley, who contributed 16 points and big man Heldring who got 12 points and grabbed five rebounds to help the Trevians prevail.
Coach Locke knew Rossi was going to be a problem. “To me, the difference in the game was Rossi. He just imposed his will on us and that’s the first time in three years we let him get away from us like that. We didn’t respect his ability enough, and my hat’s off to him because he played very well.” Junior Ryan Frazier-Chambers stepped up and led the Kits with 14 points in the loss.
Although the schedule said the game at Welsh-Ryan Arena was a home game for Evanston, the first true home game came Dec. 19 in the Kits’ long-awaited return to Beardsley Gym to take on the Niles West Wolves. It was the Kits’ first appearance in the gym since their sectional title triumph in March, and this time they looked like the team that played won the sectionals almost nine months before.
The Kits started slow and were down through most of the first quarter. Even though they forced the Wolves to make many turnovers, the Kits failed to capitalize on them by missing lay-ups. The Kits went into the second half with a small lead but after a short pep talk by Coach Locke, the Kits came out on fire in the third period going into a quick 17-3 run and they never backed down the rest of the game.
“We let ourselves down by getting all those turnovers and not getting the points we needed. I told them to play like they wanted it more, and they really took it to heart. They came out and didn’t worry about anything other than the basic things we learn in practice, which led us to look so good in the second half,” said the coach.
Evanston, whose record went up to 6-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play, saw a major difference in the game as senior big man Eric Dortch at long last played up to his potential. He dominated the inside post swiping nine rebounds while Frazier-Chambers did his thing on the outside getting five steals. They each scored 20 points in an impressive 68-50 victory.
“Eric can play like that against anybody. It’s just him applying himself,” said Coach Locke. “I think he got into a groove in this game because the pressure was off of him not being a starter in this game. Now he’s playing with more of a purpose coming off the bench.”
The next task facing the Kits will be another tough tournament, this time at Proviso West from Dec. 26-30. Last year Evanston had a successful run in the tournament, winning the consolation prize. After seeing how much talent there is on the other teams, the competition will be tough. The first game is against St. Patrick on Dec. 26. If the Kits win that contest, they could face off against their new archrival, Zion-Benton. Coach Locke and his team say they will be ready for Zion-Benton.