Wildkit girls basketball teammates celebrate regional championship win against Glenbrook North. (Photo: Dan Stein)

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Considering that no player on the girls roster had ever played in a regional basketball championship before, Evanston assistant coach Travis Ransom was on the spot to deliver instructions about how to carefully mount the ladder to cut down the nets.

That’s a celebration ceremony the Wildkits will get used to – as long as his daughter Zuri wears the Orange and Blue.

On a night where points were hard to come by – again – for the host team, Ransom rallied the Wildkits to a 45-34 victory over Glenbrook North in the second half of the Class 4A regional title game at Beardsley Gymnasium Friday night.

Ransom scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second half before being forced to the bench for a second time with cramps in her left calf, and the Wildkits were able to grind out their third victory over the Spartans this season from there.

Ransom’s heroics helped No. 3 seed ETHS punch a ticket to Tuesday’s sectional semifinals at Glenbrook South, joining the other top seeds – Loyola Academy, Maine South and Glenbrook South. The Wildkits will take a 19-9 record into Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. game against Maine South, which pounded New Trier 76-43 to win its own regional. Loyola and GBS will collide at 6 p.m.

The Kits had to overcome miserable (6-of-28) shooting in the first half and were fortunate to be down only 19-17 at the intermission.

So which did head coach Brittanny Johnson have more confidence in, her defense’s ability to stymie the Spartans in the second half or her sophomore guard, Ransom?

“I’d say that was a toss-up,” Johnson smiled. “It seemed like any time we needed a big basket, Zuri got it for us. Typically, when she plays well, we play well. She pushed through tonight until she couldn’t walk, and then the rest of them took over.

“It’s just so special for her to do something like this as a sophomore. She’s gotten better every single day this season, and the work she’s put in this season is why she had that moment tonight.

“At halftime I just went in there calmly and said, ‘Is this how you want to go out?’ And they answered right away in the second half because our first six plays [possessions] were baskets or free throws.”

Ransom, who finished with a 6-of-15 shooting performance and a team-high 7 rebounds, knew she had to find some holes in GBN’s 2-3 zone or the season would be over. But as it turned out, those leg cramps came closer to stopping her than the Spartan defenders did.

“My calves cramped up on me, and I don’t really know why, but my knee is fine. So it’s all good!” exclaimed the sophomore guard. “This is the first real playoff game I’ve been in and it feels really good to win the regional. We just HAD to get this done. I’m just glad the rest of the team was able to pull us through after my minor setback.

“In the second half, I just felt I had to come out and try to control the game more, and be a shot maker. I thought, this is my time. And in the huddle [right before the second half started] we came back out and said they’ve already scored too much on us. We used our athleticism and got the steals we needed in the second half.”

GBN scored just 3 field goals in the second half, all of them by senior guard Jaden De Guzman, who finished with 14 points. Post player Brooke Blumenfeld finished with 8 points – 1 in the second half on a technical foul free throw – and freshman flash Alexis Myers, guarded closely by Kailey Starks of ETHS most of the game, attempted only 3 shots, missed them all, and wound up with 4 points.

Ransom went down with a cramp early in the fourth quarter, but was only out briefly and returned to knock down a 17-foot basket and a 3-point try to push Evanston’s lead to 33-25 with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left in the contest.

Ninety seconds later she went down again after a collision with De Guzman, but at that point there was no stopping the winners. Taija Banks scored 6 of her total 8 points in the fourth period, including a 4-of-5 effort at the free throw line.

“We struggled on offense tonight, but our defense is something special,” Johnson said. “Tonight it was just so good. It’s almost scary watching the passion they have for playing defense.

“We made that run at the start of the third quarter and got back into the game. GBN is a team I respect a lot, and that’s why we defended them the way we did. It feels great, and winning a regional doesn’t come easy. Winning a regional was a goal of ours at the start of the season, and I promise you that nobody else picked us to be in this position.”

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