The Lady Red Devils’ two senior scoring and rebounding leaders — McKensie Herold and Meghann Cranford — had huge scoring periods against the Lady Wolves Feb. 14. Photo by Heather Gifford
GREEN RIVER — It was a sweetheart of a victory for the Lady Red Devils on Valentine’s Day in Green River, when they picked up a conference road win in the form of a sweep over the Lady Wolves, 40-31. The win evened Evanston’s 4A West Conference record to 4-4, with two to play, both at home this weekend.
Two tie scores and three lead changes highlighted the early going. Green River led 6-4 in a low-scoring first quarter. While the Lady Wolves have struggled somewhat — now 1-7 in conference play — they always seem to get up for Evanston, and play a physical brand of basketball.
Two seniors, who have been among the leading scorers for the Lady Red Devils all season — Kensie Herold and Meghann Cranford — scored Evanston’s only two baskets in the first quarter. But they were far from being finished. It was Senior Night in Green River, so Lady Wolves coach Greg Butler opted to start all seniors, but freely began to substitute in others, including junior Shayla Strauss, a starter most of the season, who gave the Lady Wolves their first quarter lead by hitting a three-pointer with a little less than a minute left to play, one of three treys she would have on the night.
In the first meeting between the two teams, on Jan. 25 in Evanston, MacKenzee Barker scored a career-high 13 points. While the six she scored in the second meeting didn’t match the feat of the first, the Evanston point guard certainly contributed to the win with her tenacious defense on Green River’s leading scorer and playmaker, Sadie Mortensen, who was limited to one third quarter basket and four fourth quarter free throws. Team defense won the game for the Lady Red Devils, as the Lady Wolves set multiple screens, or picks, in their offensive sets, which Evanston fought through or switched effectively with solid help-defense.
Herold did most of her damage in the middle quarters, scoring six in the second and third, on five field goals and two free-throws. Together with Cranford’s eight-point third-quarter production, the two seniors combined for 14 of Evanston’s 15 points.
Herold tied the game on a bucket with 6:02 remaining in the second quarter, as Green River’s 6-4 lead would be their last. MacKenzee Barker picked up a steal and streaked down the floor for a left-handed lay-up, which gave Evanston an 8-6 advantage, starting the second quarter on a 4-0 run. The Lady Wolves had an opportunity to recapture the lead, as their second-leading scorer, senior Tessa Williams, got a bucket and was hacked in the act by Lady Red Devil Alli Barker, but missed the free throw, and the 8-8 tie was as close as the Lady Wolves would get. Williams did end with eight points, a bit below her 8.9 average, but only had two in the first meeting.
Herold put the Lady Red Devils back on top, 9-8, with a free throw at the 4:30 mark, and Evanston did not relinquish the lead from there on out. Junior starter Kylie Hurd got into foul trouble starting the second quarter, already with two personal fouls, and picked up her third with 2:44 to go before halftime. She did not score in the game. Junior starter Hailey O’Neill got her only score with less than two minutes left. Both juniors found other ways to contribute, though — O’Neill had a great hustle play on a save to Pearl Marquez.
Evanston outscored Green River 10-3 in the second quarter. Coach Scott Ehlers seems to be utilizing his bench more and earlier, bolstering team depth for the stretch run.
The 30 turnovers Evanston forced on Green River on Jan. 25 were the most for the Lady Red Devils on the season, and totaled 33 by one account, but Evanston also committed 23 of their own. The rematch appeared headed that direction, as the Lady Red Devils had 11 at the half, and the Lady Wolves 13, but both squads would take better care of the basketball in the second half.
The Lady Wolves went on a 4-0 run to start the third, cutting the lead to a single-digit, 13-14, but along came Cranford, who hit a couple baskets on a stick-back and a fade-away, as did Herold, too. Cranford also hit a big three, and then came up with a block of a Bailey Coy shot attempt on the ensuing trip down the floor for the Lady Wolves.
Evanston got up by five or six, and the Lady Wolves clawed their way back to make it a one-possession game early in the third. Cranford’s scoring kept pace with the Lady Wolves’ 10 points, including five from Williams, and Herold’s aggressive scoring punch came in the middle to latter stages of the quarter to separate the teams by double-figures. The Lady Red Devils led by 10 going into the final stanza, 29-19. Evanston’s three senior starters, Herold, Cranford and MacKenzee Barker, set a great example with their inspired play.
Four consecutive clutch free throw conversions by Mortensen, with less than a minute gone by, cut the lead to six-points, 23-29, a two-possession game, with 7:07 left, as the Green River senior demonstrated inspired play of her own. Sophomore Alli Barker countered with a “hoop-and-the-harm” three-point play to put Evanston back up by nine, 32-23, shortly thereafter.
Green River wouldn’t go away quietly, and did outscore Evanston 12-11 in the fourth, but the 10-point advantage was too much to overcome. Strauss apparently has the green light from her coach to fire three-point shots near NBA range, which most defenses will give her, uncontested, but at least two of Strauss’ long-bombs were from way downtown; she hit two in the fourth quarter, the last making it a two-possession game with 1:13 left.
MacKenzee Barker, not known for her free throw shooting ability, knocked down three of four in pressure situations in the final eight minutes, and was 4-6 for the game, somewhat countering Herold, ordinarily solid at the stripe, who went 3-8 in the fourth, and finished 5 of 11 for the game.
Evanston’s three seniors combined for 33 of Evanston’s 40 points, led by Herold with a game-high 17, Cranford with 10 and Barker with six. Alli Barker added her “three-point play, the old-fashioned way” to the Lady Red Devils’ total, with O’Neill, and freshman Brinae Sanders, both finishing with two points. Sanders connected on both of her free throws in the fourth quarter.
Evanston’s line was 12 field goals, Cranford’s three-pointer, and they shot 13-25 for 52 percent from the stripe. Unofficially, Evanston limited their turnovers to 15, with just four in the second half.
Green River tallied seven field goals, three from beyond the arc, all from Strauss, and converted 57 percent of their free throw attempts at 8-14, with eight taking place in the second half.
In the final weekend, some teams have one game remaining, others two, and the standings shape up this way in the 4A West Conference:
Natrona County 9-0, 18-3
Kelly Walsh 6-3, 6-15
Rock Springs 4-4, 10-11
Evanston 4-4, 7-14
Green River 1-7, 4-17
Riverton 1-7, 4-18
Natrona County and Kelly Walsh play each other on Thursday, Feb. 21, while Green River plays at Riverton on Tuesday, Feb.19, then Rock Springs and Green River square off on Thursday, Feb. 21, before the Lady Tigers come to Evanston, on Friday, Feb. 22, followed by Riverton at Evanston, set for Saturday, Feb. 23.
Even if Kelly Walsh surprised Natrona County to secure second place, ending 7-3, Natrona County has the conference championship and number-one seed, with the accompanying state tournament berth wrapped up.
The question is, who will be number two? The top two places are awarded for conference play, with automatic state qualification and first-round byes to open regional tournament play, not having to play in either of Thursday’s three versus six seed, and four versus five seed, loser-out, season-ending games.
Either, but not both, the Lady Red Devils or Lady Tigers can tie Kelly Walsh, assuming the Lady Trojans don’t spring the huge upset over rival NC. But each would have to win both of their remaining games to do so. Evanston needs to have the win over Rock Springs, if Green River hands Rock Springs another conference loss for the third seed, because if Evanston and Rock Springs both finish 1-1, and are tied at 5-5, neither team can catch Kelly Walsh. But the Lady Tigers would have the tie-breaker against Evanston for the third seed from head-to-head competition, and Riverton could still knock Evanston out of contention for the two-way tie for second, even if Evanston defeats Rock Springs on Friday.
Both Rock Springs and Evanston need to close with two wins for a potential tie. Worst case scenario? Evanston finishes fourth and likely plays Green River in a four-five game. Best case, they tie KW for second, and with the teams splitting on the regular season, and both being swept by conference leader Natrona County, the next criteria for breaking the tie is how the teams performed against the rest of the conference opponents, top to bottom. In the case of Evanston and KW, the results are the same down through the ranks, with mirroring results, creating a true tie, which would then be decided by the flip of a coin.
The Lady Red Devils host Rock Springs this Friday at 5:30 p.m., and follow up with Riverton at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, with 2013 Lady Red Devils seniors being honored. Guys’ games will follow at 7 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday from the Red Devils’ gym.