Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Evanston’s senior-laden girls basketball team handed an up-and-coming Maine South squad three losses last winter, including a season-ending loss in the Class 4A sectional tournament semifinals.
Now it’s the Hawks who are a team that’s ready for prime time.
Maine South ascended the throne that was finally surrendered by the 4-time defending champion Wildkits at the top of the Central Suburban League South division Friday night in Park Ridge, as the Hawks scored a 50-34 victory that eliminated ETHS.
The Hawks can complete a perfect conference season Saturday in the second game of the home-and-home series set for Beardsley Gym, but that’s as far as they’ll get with no state tournament scheduled for this year by the Illinois High School Association.
So South’s seniors had to settle for a statement victory against the Wildkits, who fell to 13-5 overall.
The Hawks seized control with their full-court press, smacking the Kits in the face collectively with 6 points in the first 55 seconds, and never looked back after seizing a 23-12 first quarter lead.
Evanston had trouble dealing with that 1-2-1-1 press, minus leading scorer and chief ballhandler Rashele Olantunbosun. The senior guard injured her ankle last Sunday in a shootout at Morton College and was in street clothes again on Friday night.
The losers turned the ball over a total of 19 times and shot just 35 percent (14-of-38) from the floor. Junior Lola Lesmond was the only player in double figures for the Kits with 10 points. Emily Pape (16 points, 9 rebounds), Niam Gardiner (14 points) and Nicole Gardiner (11 points) led the new champs.
Developing more options on offense — especially with another spring and summer season not interrupted by a pandemic — will likely be ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson’s No. 1 priority in the off-season.
Evanston dug down deep on defense after being blitzed in the first period. The Wildkits held the hosts scoreless for 5 full minutes in the second quarter — and only cut into the lead by 3 points, on a trey by Lesmond. It was their only basket of the period.
“I’m really pleased that we played so hard, up against a team that returned their entire roster from last year,” said Johnson. “I don’t think we played a bad game even though we lost by 20 points. That team (Maine South) is that good.
“Defensively I think we’ve been really, really good this year. We really missed an opportunity to get back into the game in that second quarter. But this is what I wanted from this year, to see the girls in the big moments, to see what we have. Every game is another game where you can grow, and I’m excited for us tomorrow and I’m excited about next year.
“I was happy with our fight and the fact that we continued to fight. I love the progress I’m seeing from our younger kids like (sophomores) Sofia Rocca and Ciara Gentle. I thought this was easily Ciara’s best game — she was a presence out there — and I thought they both played with poise against Maine South’s pressure.”
Gentle finished with 2 points and 5 rebounds.