Evanston’s basketball team earned a share of the Central Suburban League South division championship Friday night.
But not before the Wildkits had to hold their collective breaths with no time showing on the clock in overtime at Beardsley Gymnasium.
Fouled at the buzzer in OT on a 3-point shot attempt, Glenbrook South sophomore Nick Martinelli misfired after making the first two and Evanston escaped with a 61-60 triumph over the Titans.
Martinelli, the younger brother of GBS star Dom Martinelli, saw his third try bounce out after Evanston head coach Mike Ellis called a timeout to let the sophomore think about the situation.
“You could tell that he looked very comfortable shooting the first two. He was in rhythm and I had to do something to get him off the line,” said Ellis. “I hate to win a game more on hope than on strategy, but that’s what we had left.
“Is it poor sportsmanship? I don’t know, is it poor sportsmanship to ice the kicker at the end of a football game? I don’t think so. There are reasons you save timeouts for the end of a game. Sports is very mental, and some physical. It’s part of sports.
“I thought our guys did a good job of not panicking when we relinquished the lead in the fourth quarter and in overtime. And Blake Peters got us a big 4-point play, something he’s been known for in his career. He had the focus to convert that shot with a guy hanging all over him.”
Peters’ 4-point play with 50 seconds remaining in overtime pushed the Kits into the lead for good at 58-56. He finished with a team-high 16 points, backed up by Daeshawn Hemphill’s 13 points and 12 from Isaiah Holden.
Evanston, now 25-4 overall, has won or shared the conference crown 6 years in a row, matching the longest streak in program history. The Wildkits also accomplished that feat from 1984 to 1990.
Dom Martinelli led the losers (26-4 overall, 9-1 CSL South) with 29 points but turned the ball over 3 times in the fourth quarter, defended closely by the 6-foot-1 Peters. Except for that 4-point play, the ETHS junior made his biggest impact at the defensive end after Jaylin Gibson got in early foul trouble and had to be switched off his original defensive assignment.
Peters managed to stay in front of the 6-foot-4 Martinelli and forced him to make tougher shots than the first time the two teams met, when Martinelli netted 36 points.
“I think I had one other 4-point play this year, maybe in our first conference game, but it wasn’t as significant as this one,” Peters said. “Yeah, it was a big shot. Thankfully I was ready to shoot (from the right corner in transition) and Jaylin found me.
“Guarding Dom was a challenge in itself for me tonight. I did my best to force him right — he’s unstoppable if he gets going to his left —, and he did get me a couple of times. But he’s a great player, and overall I’m proud of how I defended him.
“It was definitely important for us to win the conference. We didn’t want to be the team that ended that streak, and I think that speaks to our culture and our tradition here. I think we’re in a good spot as a team right now.”
The hosts actually had a chance to ice the game in regulation, leading 53-49 with 1:32 left on the clock. But the elder Martinelli scored a 3-point play after grabbing a loose ball and charging to the bucket, and missed free throws by the usually reliable Elijah Bull and Hemphill in the final 18 seconds left just enough of an opening for Martinelli to tie the game with a drive down the left sideline all the way with 5 seconds to play.
Peters’ 4-point play — after South’s Stevon Boyd scored off the overtime tip —sent the Wildkits back into the lead, and he scored what turned out to be the game-winning points when he cashed in a pair of free throws with 7 seconds left.
The victory earned a split for ETHS in the regular season series between the two rivals. The Kits conclude the regular season with a CSL crossover game at Maine East next Tuesday. GBS, according to a conference rule that breaks a tie by allowing the team that has gone the longest without a title game appearance to compete , will meet North division champion Niles North in the CSL Showcase crossover championship game.
The Wildkits could face the Titans a third time in the championship game of the Class 4A Elk Grove Sectional tournament in a couple of weeks. Pairings just released by the Illinois High School Association show GBS with the No. 2 seed and ETHS with the No. 3 seed, behind No. 1 seed Loyola Academy.
Evanston, which is seeking a third straight trip to the Final Four, will open postseason play at the Maine East Regional tournament. The Kits will meet the Maine East-Hoffman Estates winner on Tuesday, March 3rd at 7 p.m. No. 6 seed New Trier and No. 11 Glenbrook North are also assigned to that regional field.
The regional title game is set for Friday, March 6th at 7 p.m.