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Savannah Norfleet shifted back into attack mode just in time for Evanston’s girls basketball team Wednesday night.
Norfleet’s driving layup with 24 seconds remaining sparked the Wildkits to a 41-40 victory over Batavia in the 5th place game at the Montini Holiday Tournament.
Evanston completed a 3-1 run at the state’s toughest tournament, holding on when Batavia’s Jessica Koch clanked two straight free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining.
No one on the winning side could quite believe just how open the lane was for Norfleet with the game on the line in the final minute. But the quicksilver junior guard knew what to do when she saw that opening.
It was a fantastic finish after a fantastic start for Norfleet, who netted 9 points in the opening quarter and only attempted 4 more shots leading up to the game-winner. And most of her team-high 13 points had come on drives to the basket.
“I was a little hesitant earlier in the game and I was trying to get all of my teammates involved,” Norfleet pointed out. “But Coach told me to attack in the fourth quarter, and when I saw the lane wide open like that, I attacked. I was really surprised I was that wide open. They just gave me the lane.”
“We like to run a lot of motion, but we really don’t run many plays. They’re still learning how to run the motion,” said Evanston head coach Elliot Whitefield. “I was surprised that Batavia spread out so much (on defense) and came all the way out on Savannah like that. The lane was wide open for her.
“Savannah made a big play for us, and Cookie Boothe knocked down a couple of 3’s to pick up our energy in the fourth quarter. We’re not in the game without those big shots she hit, and she got a big steal for us at the end, too.”
Boothe registered all 11 of her points in the second half and Krystal Forrester (8 points) and Leighah Wool (7) also did damage in the second quarter for the winners, now 13-3 overall. Batavia’s 6-foot-2 Hannah Frazier led all scorers with 24 points — including a 13-of-16 effort at the free throw line — and 11 points but couldn’t prevent the Bulldogs from slipping to 14-4.
The lead changed hands six times in the last five minutes after Evanston clung to slim leads for almost all of the first three quarters. After Frazier made the second free throw attempt with 1:32 left to give the Bulldogs a 38-37 advantage, Boothe misfired on a 25-footer and that seemed to put the Bulldogs in position for a victory.
But the junior guard recorded a steal for a layup with 62 seconds left. Two more free throws by Frazier gave Batavia the lead for the last time, leading up to Norfleet’s heroics.
Wool had a chance to seal the deal at the charity stripe after Batavia freshman Geddy Rerko threw the ball out of bounds with 9 seconds showing on the clock. But Wool misfired on a bonus free throw attempt and that led to Batavia’s last opportunity.
Both tries by Koch bounced off the iron as the Kits concluded their first trip to Montini on a winning note.
“No disrespect meant to Batavia, but I thought we’d be able to execute better than that against them,” Whitefield said. “They really played hard. We should not have turned it over that much (15 times, but only once in the fourth quarter) against that pressure. We kept picking the ball up at the worst spots on the floor instead of passing. I think we still have a long way to go before we can compete better against the best teams around.”
Norfleet felt that ETHS stood up well to the test against some of the top girls squads in the state. Evanston’s only tourney loss was a 59-50 setback to Whitney Young.
“I love this tournament,” Norfleet said. “We played at Dundee-Crown last year and it was not as competitive. We want to be better as a team, so we have to face some great teams to do that. It was a lot of fun playing here. We loved playing against this competition, and now we know if we work hard, we can be unstoppable.”