Savannah Norfleet spent much of her sophomore basketball season in foul trouble, trying to learn the ropes of how to play effective man-to-man defense on the varsity level.

How far has the Evanston guard come since then? Enough to earn the complete trust of head coach Elliot Whitefield .

Whitefield stuck with the talented junior after she picked up her fourth personal foul in the third quarter, and Norfleet rallied the unbeaten Wildkits to a hard-fought 44-41 victory over Maine South in the Central Suburban League South division opener Friday night at Beardsley Gym.

Norfleet notched a game-high 17 points and 5 steals for the winners, now 7-0 overall. She eventually did foul out with 11 seconds remaining, but  by then the Kits had converted 10-of-15 free throw attempts in the final period to keep the Hawks at bay.

Whitefield didn’t really have a lot of options on offense with his team trailing 23-14 midway through the third quarter. So when Norfleet was whistled for her fourth personal at the 4:19 mark, she only came out for a few seconds before returning to the action.

She kept ETHS within striking distance with seven points to close out the quarter, and tossed in a 3-point basket with 6:13 remaining in the game that sent the home team ahead for good at 29-27.

Leah Robinson added 9 points and 5 rebounds for the Wildkits, and Krystal Forrester contributed 7 points, including three clutch free throws in the fourth quarter.

“If Savannah doesn’t come through like that for us, then it’s not even a game,” said Whitefield regarding a second half in which the Kits surrendered only 2 field goals in a 15-minute stretch. “She worked very hard in the off-season — not just that AAU stuff like a lot of kids, but at the Y working on her skills — and it shows. She’s improved her shooting range and her consistency.

“She pretends that she doesn’t like me, but I know deep down that she really does. When it gets serious and we need to communicate with each other, she’s right there. When I told her not to foul, that I’d rather see Maine South get an easy basket than have her foul out, she understood that. She still played great in the passing lanes and got some steals. She can be as good as she wants to be, as good as any other guard in the conference, for sure.”

Evanston forced 27 turnovers by the visitors, 15 of them coming in the second half.  But trouble solving the variety of zone defenses thrown at them by Maine South kept the Kits from converting many of those mistakes in the first half, when they mustered only 13 points and shot a dismal 5-of-18 from the field.

“We had trouble in the first half against the box and 1, the 1-2-2 and the 2-3 zone they played,” Whitefield said. “They have to learn to understand where the openings are, that you can’t just stand still and hope to get the ball for a shot. But we had a 20-point swing in the second half and that shows what happens if you do what you’re supposed to be doing.”