Long-time fans of the Evanston girls basketball program had seen this movie before.
It starred a Wildkit team that put together a strong regular season but couldn’t buy a basket in crunch time in postseason play.
So when the Kits shot just 3-of-15 from the field in Monday’s Class 4A Maine West Sectional semifinal game for the first quarter, the glass looked half-empty —again— for Evanston supporters.
But this isn’t your mother’s Evanston team. The Wildkits regrouped and put together a dominant performance on both ends of the floor, crushing a good Maine South team 65-51 and advancing to Thursday’s title game against defending state champion Maine West.
Evanston defeated the Hawks for the third time this season and will take a 24-6 won-loss record into the showdown with Maine West at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Warriors eliminated Loyola Academy 31-21 in Monday’s other semifinal matchup.
Senior guard Kayla Henning splurged for 10 points in the second quarter when the Kits finally got their transition game in gear, on her way to a game-high 18 points, and Rashele Olantunbosun and Ambrea Gentle contributed 13 points apiece for the winners.
Maine South, which finished 26-7, got 11 points off the bench from 6-foot sophomore Emily Pape.
Trailing 19-12 and unable to deal with South’s bigs successfully earlier in the game, the Wildkits then held the Hawks scoreless for the last 5 minutes of the first half while netting 16 unanswered points and charging to a 28-19 halftime advance.
Henning scored 10 points and also had 2 assists during that surge.
“Kayla literally took over the game at that point,” said ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson. “When she came in here and started as a freshman, we told her we wanted her to be a leader for this class. She’s been through a lot and the way she played tonight reminded of the pre (knee) injury Kayla. That’s how good she was tonight.
“She put the team on her back and did what it took to win. She played a near perfect game, in terms of our game plan, and she was aggressive right from the start. I’d love to see that again Thursday night, and if it happens we’ll have a good chance to succeed.”
Monday’s game wasn’t the first slow start for the Wildkits and Johnson had her squad prepared for that possibility.
“When we talked before the game, we told them that we’d take a punch from Maine South at first, and then we had to be ready to give them a punch right back, and that’s why I love the fact that we were down,” she said. “In the second quarter we went with smaller matchups and we put in Ari (5-foot-8 senior Ariel Logan). When we put her in a game, it seems to change the way everyone plays defense. It doesn’t show up in the stats, but she really sparked us. She made the kind of plays that win games.
“I really have to give credit to our seniors. When the 3-point shots didn’t fall, they got the ball inside and drove to the basket and didn’t settle for outside shots. They were aggressive and they kept attacking the basket.”
Henning consistently found seams in the extended 2-3 zone defense played by the Hawks. The No. 2 seeded Kits broke the game open in the third period by outscoring the losers 24-14, as sophomore Lola Lesmond connected on two bombs from beyond 20 feet, one of 5 different Kits who scored in that quarter alone.
Maine South never got closer than 14 points in the final quarter.