After playing one of the toughest schedules of any high school girls basketball team in Illinois this season, Evanston came back for more Saturday night at the third annual E-Town Showdown at Northwestern University.
This time there was no comeback in the cards for ETHS, however. The formula that produced a come-from-behind win over archrival New Trier 24 hours earlier didn’t work in a 60-51 loss to a strong Hersey squad.
Now 12-13 overall, the Wildkits rallied to within 3 points of the Huskies in the fourth quarter, much like they did versus New Trier.
But the Huskies responded by scoring 5 points in 20 seconds and pulled away behind a game-high 29 points from Megan Mrowicki.
Zuri Ransom, Evanston’s Player of the Game, tallied 18 points and Kailey Starks added 14 for the Wildkits.
Evanston Township High School head coach Brittanny Johnson has never shied away from taking on tough challenges on the schedule since taking over the program, although she didn’t expect the series of injuries that have limited the team’s top players all season. You could almost say she built the schedule around this Hersey contest, as it marks the last opportunity (except in the postseason) to match up with a coaching legend she has great respect for, Mary Fendley. Fendley, who has amassed over 500 victories in her tenure, is retiring after this season.
“We always want to play the best,” Johnson said. “The thought process for me scheduling this game was so we could challenge ourselves right before the state playoffs start. We knew Hersey would be a good test for us.
“We had an emotional win yesterday – and we got the one that mattered. This could have been the cherry on top of the cake, though, a really feel-good win. Maybe they thought, ‘Let’s try and do it the exact same way we did it last night’ [fall behind early, rally late]. It didn’t work out that way.
“We got it to within 3 points and we had two huge turnovers in there. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but we definitely let this one get away from us.”
Hersey (23-7) never trailed in the contest because Johnson couldn’t find a defender who could stay with Mrowicki. She scored inside and outside, almost at will, and connected on 12-of-18 field goal attempts. Also reaching double figures for the Huskies with 11 points apiece were Katy Eidle and Annika Manthy, a 6-foot-3 junior.
Evanston trailed just 26-22 at halftime, however, even though Ransom went scoreless and the Kits only shot 33% from the field. They found their energy in the third period and Ransom’s baseline floater just beat the buzzer to keep Evanston within 43-38.
Baskets by Starks, Pryor and Arianna Milam-Pryor sliced into the lead even further and it was 47-44 with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left in the contest. But Eidle sank a free throw, Manthy put back an easy rebound attempt on her second missed free throw, and Eidle stole the ball and scored on a short jump short in a burst that restored the advantage to 52-44 for the Huskies.
Evanston never got closer than 7 points after that.
“We weren’t executing on offense against their man-to-man in the first half,” said Johnson. “Hersey usually plays a zone and we haven’t seen a man-to-man for a long time before this weekend [New Trier also utilized a man-to-man defense]. I would have loved to have one more day to work on our man-to-man offense because we were really stifled.
“We have to make sure our offense is flowing better before the playoffs start. We have a week now to iron some things out.”
The Wildkits conclude the regular season with road games Tuesday at Maine West and Thursday at Mundelein Carmel. Carmel is the defending Class 3A state champion.