Defense delivered for Evanston’s girls basketball team for the second year in a row.
The Wildkit girls advanced to the Class 4A sectional finals for the second straight season and earned a rematch with rival New Trier after producing a suffocating defensive performance Monday night in the semifinals of the Maine East Sectional tournament.
Holding Loyola Academy without a field goal for a stretch of more than 13 minutes, Evanston defeated the Ramblers for the second time this season after finding enough offense in the fourth quarter to secure a 42-35 victory.
Twin sisters Sierra and Seara Clayborn helped apply the defensive clamps to Loyola’s two leading scorers and also combined for 23 points as the No. 2 seeded Wildkits improved to 22-7 on the year. They’ll meet top-seeded New Trier on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the sectional championship game. The Trevians disposed of Maine West 57-34 in the other semifinal contest Monday.
Sierra Clayborn limited Mary Kate Herion to 4-of-11 shooting from 3-point range, sticking a hand in her face from start to finish, while Seara Clayborn was mostly responsible for stifling the Ramblers’ Maggie Nick, who netted 25 points in the regular season meeting between the two teams.
Monday, Nick finished with only 8 points and didn’t score a basket until the final 10 seconds of the game.
“This was one of our better defensive efforts of the season, and I’m incredibly proud of our effort,” said Evanston coach Elliot Whitefield. “Loyola doesn’t have a lot of athleticism, but they execute their offensive game plan as well as any team we’ve played. I thought we did a really good job of switching and recognizing who their scorers were.”
It was the Clayborn twins who set the tone with gritty man-to-man defense. Sierra Clayborn in particular turned in another courageous performance, as the senior has basically played on one leg since Christmas, hampered by a case of painful plantar fasciitis.
“Sierra battled hard through every possession tonight, and it’s her fight that represents who we are as a team,” Whitefield praised. “I asked her before the game if she could guard No. 10 (Herion), and she just said yeah. She is one tough kid.”
Loyola never got untracked on offense until the fourth quarter and finished just 9-of-28 shooting for the night.
Still, the Ramblers did make things interesting in the final period, rallying from a 30-19 deficit entering the fourth quarter to within 36-31 on a free throw by Tyra Mills with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining in the game.
Evanston freshman Leighah Amori-Wool answered with a basket at the other end, however, and the Clayborn sisters each converted a pair of bonus free throws in the final minute to send ETHS back to the title game.
Amori-Wool finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds for the winners and the other ETHS freshman starter, Krystal Forrester, contributed 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Evanston dropped both regular season matchups against New Trier, losing on the Trevians’ floor after leading by five points with two minutes remaining in that game.
“I’ll take our chances again if we’re up five points against their long 3-pointers,” Whitefield said. “We’ll have to control (6-foot-3 New Trier center) Jeannie Boehm as much as we can, and still not give their shooters wide open looks.
“It should be a great game.”