Coming into their first regional game against Loyola Academy in Wilmette, the Wildkits’ basketball squad was confident they could show doubters they deserved their fifth seed in the Niles West sectional.
The Ramblers were seeded 12th. Fresh off a 20-point victory the day before they also had home-court advantage to back them up. Although the Kits were favored in the game, Loyola gave Evanston a fight not many expected.
Throughout the first half, the teams went back and forth on the scoreboard. Evanston changed their defensive looks through the first two quarters by changing zones to fend off Loyola’s tough offensive scheme. Evanston went into halftime with a slim 2-point lead.
The third quarter started off positive for the Kits as they kept up their defensive pressure and forced turnovers that led to fast break points. But by the end of the quarter, Loyola fired in a couple of 3-pointers to put the Ramblers up, 42-40, going into the fourth quarter.
The Kits applied full court pressure and pulled off a 12-0 run, which included a 3-point basket by junior forward James Farr and 3-point plays by junior Clarke Rosenberg and senior Ryan Frazier-Chambers. Evanston only scored one basket in the final four minutes, opening the door for Loyola to make a big comeback. The Kits had a 10-point lead in the final minutes of the game, but the Ramblers stormed back, led by their senior guard Andrew Kindelin, who scored a game high 27 points while going, 8-of-14, from 3-point range.
After a few costly misses from the free throw line by Evanston, Kindelin scored from deep to bring his team to within a point with 30 seconds left. Evanston had their chance to bring their lead back up to 3 but Farr missed a layup to give the Ramblers a chance to win. Loyola killed the time by passing the ball around the perimeter, and with 5 seconds left the ball was thrown into the hands of the Ramblers’ junior forward Mike Lang who was fouled with only two seconds left. Lang then proceeded to make both free throws. After a failed fade-away jump shot by Chambers, Evanston’s season was over in a heartbreaking game, 57-56.
Loyola’s head coach Tom Livatino had the utmost trust in his team and deep down knew they could pull off this upset.
“Our guys just didn’t stop believing,” Livatino said. “I think this win speaks volumes about these seniors. I’ve said many times this year that our record may not be stellar, but coaching these kids has been just unbelievable. They showed their resiliency, they showed togetherness and they showed their trust in each other.”
Lang, the Ramblers star who made the game-winning free throw, seemingly had his dream come true by draining the decisive bucket. “Growing up, everyone always imagines making the game-winning basket or the game-winning free throw,” said Lang. “All I know is I couldn’t imagine anything better. I’ve always wanted to hit a game-winning shot, and I don’t think I’ve ever done it before.”
On the other side though, Coach Locke was disappointed his team could not hold on and had to leave the state tournament so soon. “We made the plays to get up 10 points, and we had the opportunity to win that game, and we didn’t finish,” Coach Locke said. “That’s typical of the lack of leadership and the lack of chemistry we’ve had all year. We had our hands on the ball twice at the end and we didn’t get that loose ball.
“We had planned on attacking them early with our press, but the officiating early in the game told us we had to pick our spots to be aggressive,” the Coach said. “It’s just a tough way to end the season.”
Wildkit fans must now look forward to next season for a playoff push, but they should have a bright future led by junior star guard Garrett Jones. They finished the season 14-13 overall.