It only made sense that Evanston’s girls basketball team wouldn’t be the same without the school’s all-time leading scorer on the court.
But where the Wildkits missed Leighah-Amori Wool the most Thursday night was at the free throw line.
Sidelined by a sprained ankle, all Wool could do was watch as the Wildkits missed 14 free throws — including 7 in the fourth quarter — and suffered their first home defeat of the season, a 45-41 decision to rival Loyola Academy.
It marked the third loss in the last five games for the Kits, who placed sixth at the Montini Holiday Tournament last week with a 2-2 record. Wool suffered the injury in the first quarter of a 64-58 loss to Hersey in the final round of that tourney, and hopes to return to action in time for next week’s Central Suburban League South contest against Maine South.
Evanston (16-3 overall) didn’t look like the team that was ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Class 4A state poll. The Kits only connected on 10-of-24 free throw attempts and shot just 33 percent (14-of-51) from the floor minus their leading scorer and best free throw shooter.
Loyola (13-5) outscored the hosts 23-10 at the charity stripe, but did leave them an opening to come back in the fourth quarter when the Ramblers missed 6 times.
“We were in a position to win but we just didn’t make plays at the end,” said ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson. “It’s frustrating to miss all of those free throws, but to me it was more frustrating to lose because we didn’t play well for the first three quarters. It took us almost 27 minutes to get it together tonight, and to me, that’s what’s frustrating.
“We’ve played without Leighah before, but we really struggled without her tonight. I’m just happy this happened now, instead of a couple of months from now. I think we’re just beat up and tired right now. And when we make mistakes we have to stop hold our heads down. No one feels sorry for us. We still have to find a way to win.”
Evanston had four chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter, only to fall short at the free throw line. Those misfires ruined what could have been a great comeback after the Ramblers seized a 36-28 lead with 5 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the game.
A scoop shot by Tamia Banks at the 2:02 mark provided the last lead for the hosts at 39-38, but Banks couldn’t finish off the attempt at a 3-point play, missing at the charity stripe. Loyola responded with a 16-foot jumper by Erin Dillon — only her second basket of the game — and ETHS senior point guard Allysah Boothe missed 4 straight free throws after that.
Evanston’s last gasp came when freshman Kayla Henning missed a running shot in the lane with 15 seconds left, down 43-41. Loyola guard Julia Martinez, who was 12-of-17 from the free throw line for a game high 16 points, sealed the win for the Ramblers with two successful tosses at the other end.
Senior Krystal Forrester topped ETHS with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Henning added 8 points.