West bests Wildkit girls in CSL Showcase title game
Maine West’s basketball team still has Evanston’s number.
But the Wildkit girls are hoping now to get one more chance to turn the tables on the Warriors when there’s a little more at stake.
Maine West mustered just 4 field goals in the second half Wednesday night, but still pulled off a 50-45 victory over the Wildkits in the inaugural Central Suburban League Showcase championship game matching the winners of the North and South divisions at Beardsley Gymnasium.
A flat ending to the regular season --- the Kits shot just 33 percent (19-of-57) in their own gym --- left Evanston with a 21-6 record while Maine West improved to 26-3. Both teams chalked up perfect conference seasons as the girls finally adopted a crossover “championship” game just like the boys have played for several years.
West and ETHS are seeded 1-2 at the Class 4A Maine West Sectional tournament and could meet again in the finale set for February 27th.
The Wildkits have now dropped 4 of their last 5 games, but head coach Brittanny Johnson has no trouble seeing the glass as half full, not half empty, with postseason play beginning next week.
“It’s important to remember the positives we’re taking from the tough schedule we’re playing here at the end,” Johnson said. “I see that we’re winning, and learning, through these losses. I don’t think we’ve been playing bad basketball. I think we’ve gotten better as a team, and I think now we truly understand what we need to do, exactly what this team needs.”
Better shooting would be No. 1 on that list. ETHS didn’t have a single player in double figures Wednesday night, even though the Kits got multiple good looks against the 1-2-2 zone used by the defending state champions.
Sophomore Lola Lesmond had a particularly rough outing, sinking just 2- of-12 3 point attempts, but those are exactly the shots Evanston would love to get if there’s a rematch between the two state powers in a couple of weeks. Most of Lesmond’s attempts were on target, rimming in and out.
She finished with 6 points. Rashele Olantunbosun led the losers with 9 points, while Jayla Turchin netted 8 points and Ambrea Gentle tallied 7. All three players spent extended time on the bench due to foul trouble, and point guard Kayla Henning --- recognized as Player of the Year in the South division prior to the game ---only scored 6 on 3-of-10 shooting.
“Tonight it seemed like half of our shots were halfway down, and then popped out,” Johnson pointed out. “I like the looks we got, we just didn’t knock them down. I don’t know why, but maybe our nervous energy made us long on our shots.
“We didn’t play up to par in the first half. We allowed Angela (University of Oregon recruit Angela Dugalic) to score 19 points, but in the second half we managed to execute our game plan better against her. We wanted to make everything tough for her and I think she got tired in the second half.
“Tonight we shot 33 percent, didn’t get to the foul line at all in the second half, and had the majority of our front line in foul trouble. If just a few of those things are better when we play them again, we’ll put ourselves in a position to win.”
Dugalic finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocked shots but only attempted 6 shots in the second half. The Warriors were in danger of surrendering the lead midway through the fourth quarter, when ETHS closed to within 41-38 on a bucket by Henning in the lane.
But on the next trip down, Lesmond misfired on a 3-point attempt and that’s when the Warriors started getting to the free throw line. West sank 9-of-11 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, including a pair of successful tries by both Dylan Van Fleet (11 points) and Brianna Hernandez in the final 39 seconds.
West defeated Evanston in all 3 matchups between the two teams last year but Johnson still believes in her team.
“This is a really confident group of girls, and they know enough to not look at the scores, just look at the way they’re playing,” Johnson said. “I’m not a person who looks that far ahead (to a possible rematch with the Warriors on their court). If we play well and earn some wins, I’ve love to see Maine West again. But we’re just focused on the next game, on moving forward.”
Evanston starts postseason play at the Glenbrook North Regional tournament and will face the Niles North/Chicago Schurz winner on Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. Glenbrook North, the No. 7 sectional seed, will meet No. 9 Chicago Taft in the other semifinal.
The title game is set for Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at GBN.