The Evanston Township High School girls basketball team looked to give its home fans a holiday gift by capturing a victory against Loyola Academy on Dec. 21 at Beardsley Gym in Evanston in the final home game of the 2018 portion of the schedule.

But unfortunately, the Ramblers had other ideas, as they beat the Wildkits by a score of 48-45.

 In that game, the Kits jumped out to a 13-9 lead after the first quarter thanks in part to a combined eight points from freshman guard Lola Lesmond, junior guard Ariel Logan and junior guard Jayla Turchin.

But the Ramblers fought back in the second as they took a 19-17 lead with 2:47 remaining in the half. From there, Jayla scored the Kits’ next five points as the teams played to a 22-22 tie at halftime.

To open the third quarter, the Kits unfortunately struggled to get going on offense as they were outscored 19-9 to trail 41-31 heading into the final stanza.

But in the fourth, the Kits refused to give up as they got back to within 43-40 when Jayla converted on the first of two free throws with 1:32 remaining.

Her second attempt was no good, but junior guard Tyler Mayne rebounded the miss and was able to score to make it 43-42 with 1:20 left. After a Rambler turnover, Jayla was fouled again and converted both attempts to give the Kits a 44-43 lead with 58 seconds left.

From there, the Ramblers hit a three-pointer to make it 46-44 with 41 seconds left. ETHS senior forward Amena Alexander then hit one of two free throw attempts to make it 46-45 with 17 seconds left. But after the Kits forced a turnover on the ensuing possession, Loyola stole the ball right back and converted on a
layup with seven seconds remaining to seal the 48-45 victory.

“That was a tough one. We just cannot allow ourselves to get down like that,” said head coach Brittanny Johnson.  “We are in transition obviously without Ambrea Gentle [the Kits’ leading scorer and rebounder who is out with a broken hand].”

The Coach continued, “So it was really nice to see some people step up today and play really well in their roles for the time being. There were definitely some negatives in that game, but I think there were more positives.”

Coach Johnson added, “We are going into [the Montini Holiday Tournament] knowing we will have to depend on people that really have not played much so far. So it was really good to see [those players play well against Loyola].”

Leading the Kits’ scoring attack was Jayla, who tallied 17 points, and Amena who scored nine points, including a three-pointer late in the fourth. On the defensive end, Amena also shut down Loyola standout Julia Martinez during the Kits comeback in the fourth quarter.

 “I thought [Jayla] was ok. I think the more she starts to take ownership of her position and her role on this team, the better we will be. I thought, offensively, she was really good. She created some matchup issues for them. For her, it is a great game for her to build on. She is going to be a really important piece for us going down the stretch,” the Coach said.

Regarding Amena’s performance, Coach Johnson said, “It was 100 percent Amena’s effort and her energy [that fueled the comeback]. She just changed the intensity of that game. Everybody else that guarded Martinez was fearful, whereas she just bent her knees, looked her in the eye and said ‘bring it’ and I thought that was incredible to watch.”

When asked to evaluate what caused the Kits’ struggles in the third quarter, Coach Johnson said, “I just do not think we came out of halftime ready. The first couple possessions, they were getting threes, rebounds, and you really cannot go down on a team like that and expect to win.”

The Coach continued, “I was really proud of how we fought back. It is not the first time we have done it, so I knew it was coming. I just think it happened a little too late.”

With the loss to Loyola, the Kits fell to 11-3 overall. “I think [the season] is going well. We have not played a game all season at full-strength. Now with Ambrea being out, it adds another dimension to it,” said the Coach. “So I think to be 11-3 right now considering what he have had to get through, it shows that we do have the talent to be successful and I will be very excited when we get everybody back at full-strength.”

Next up, the Kits participate in the Montini Holiday Tournament from Dec. 26-29. From there, they return home to face Niles West on Jan. 4 in Beardsley Gym.

Regarding the Montini tournament, Coach Johnson said, “Montini is huge. It is going to be a really tough four games. It is four games in four days. We are going to be playing a lot of ranked teams, probably.”

She added,  “We are learning how to play in our new norm, and I think for us, it is going to be just taking it one game at a time, seeing where our matchups are, and put the best team forward. But we are excited to go to such a great tournament.”