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Lady Devils notch first win, East-West tourney under way

Modified: Friday, Jan 4th, 2013

Lady Red Devils hoops

JACKSON — A corner has been turned for the Lady Red Devils, with a chance to extend the change in direction in payback fashion, and an opportunity to see how they stack up against the state’s best.

Evanston collected their first win last Saturday, Dec. 29, on the road in Jackson over the Lady Broncs, 40-27. Five non-conference tune-ups remain before the Lady Red Devils enter 4A West Conference competition in Rock Springs versus the Lady Tigers on Jan. 17. A trio of those tune-ups will be contested in Riverton, in the annual East vs. West Tournament, with the outcome of the first day already known when the Herald reaches you.

Teams participating in the East vs. West include 4A East representatives Laramie and Sheridan, and 2A Northwest’s Thermopolis. West teams include Evanston, Casper Kelly Walsh and the host Lady Wolverines and Wolverines of Riverton — the same field as last year’s tournament. The venues and schedules have changed, along with team compositions, yet much will seem familiar. 

A rematch with Laramie will be a done deal, played on Thursday, Jan. 3, with a date with the No. 1-ranked Lady Broncs of Sheridan at 5:30 p.m. today, and ending with the Lady Bobcats of Thermopolis on Saturday at 1 p.m. More on the East-West a bit later, but let’s revisit Evanston’s win from last weekend. 

Following a tough battle with Star Valley, which could have been much closer than the 40-25 ending, had Evanston not gotten into foul trouble with two starters, the Lady Red Devils journeyed to Jackson on Friday night. If they mirrored the boys team, pizza was served on the bus, in hopes of getting the team into Jackson hotel rooms to get as much sleep as possible.

Evanston jumped out to an 11-6 first quarter lead, with two ties in the game’s early stages. Two senior statistical leaders, McKensie Herold and Meghann Cranford, combined to shoot five of six from the stripe and added a field goal each, along with a bucket from junior starter Hailey O’Neill to comprise the Lady Red Devils’ 11. The Lady Broncs bested Evanston by two in the second quarter, resulting in a one-possession game going into the halftime locker rooms, with Evanston up 18-15.

While team shooting from the line was great in the first quarter, Evanston only converted one of six in the second quarter, with Cranford, O’Neill and freshman Brinae Sanders added deuces.

Lady Bronc Flynn Guerreri, her team’s second leading scorer, accounted for five of her team’s nine, leading all scorers with seven points at the half. Bridget Gwilliam, another returning starter and leading scorer at 9.3 points per game, was held relatively in check, with just a first quarter bucket to her credit.

The Lady Red Devils limited Jackson to one three-point basket by senior Maddie Sutton — her second of the game — and one of two from the line, for a third quarter total of only four points, while separating themselves in a double-digit lead with three complete, 29-19. Evanston again found the mark from the charity stripe, converting 5-8 in the third, equaling the feat in the fourth quarter. Herold connected on three fourth quarter field goals in the final frame to pull away further, ensuring the road victory.

While only five Lady Red Devils reached the scoring column, three finished in double figures. Cranford had a game-high 13, coming on three field goals and a 7-9 performance from the line. Herold scored four times from the field and was 3-4 at the stripe for 11. O’Neill was right behind with 10 points, via two buckets and 6-11 shooting from the stripe. Sanders hit from the field again in the third to close out the win with four, while junior Kylie Hurd scored a basket in the third quarter.

Hurd was the only Lady Red Devil to foul out, with 6:44 remaining in the game. She came into the weekend as Evanston’s best three-point threat, but didn’t have many, if any, chances to launch the long ball. The Lady Red Devils line included 12 field goals and 16-28 shooting from the line for 57 percent, unofficially committing 20 turnovers.

Evanston forced Jackson into 26 turnovers. The Jackson line was 7 field goals, 3 three-point baskets and 4-of-9 from the line. The Lady Broncs were paced by Guerrieri, with 10 points. Sutton’s 2 threes gave her 6 for the game, with Gwilliam fouling out with 17.4 seconds left to play, ending with 5. Jess Freeze had 4 and Tait Hansen added 2 for Jackson.

East vs. West match-ups

The Lady Red Devils will look to notch another win Jan. 3-5 in Riverton. Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. match-up with Laramie at Central Wyoming College Rustler Gymnasium, as stated, will already be in the books. That game represents an opportunity for retribution for the Lady Devils, as their first meeting, in Cheyenne Nov. 30, came right down to the wire, with the defending 4A state champion Lady Plainsmen picking up a 43-40 victory, one Evanston likely realizes they let slip away.

Since that point and time, Evanston dropped several more close games and were outclassed in a couple of others. Laramie, which lost a great deal of talent from its first-ever girls state title team, has managed to win four of their last five, with a sound defeat at the hands of Natrona County their lone loss. Laramie, 5-2, downed Rock Springs by a dozen, 58-46, then were spanked, 64-27, by Natrona, in the teams’ first meeting since last year’s title game, when Laramie handed the top-ranked Fillies, who boasted a 25-0 record, their only loss, but it just happened to be for all the marbles, and it’s apparent Natrona County remembered.

From there, the Lady Plainsmen entered the Flaming Gorge tourney and rolled to three consecutive wins, 77-49 over Riverton, a 40-point blowout of the Union Lady Cougars, 62-22, and knocked off the Lady Braves team, which Evanston recently lost to, 39-31. But the Lady Plainsmen have not played since that Dec. 15 win in Green River, which represents almost three weeks without a contest.

Barring injury or illness for either team, which could affect the match-ups drastically, Evanston should have somewhat of an advantage, with a pair of games under their belt and back into the flow of things, where Laramie might be prone to struggle in their first game out in quite some time.

Since the Laramie-Evanston game will be complete, not much time will be dedicated into how the teams stack up, statistically speaking. And the same can be said for the game on Saturday against Thermopolis. Certainly, team and individual stats can and will be listed, but when the teams have no common opponents and play in classifications separated by two classifications, 4A to 2A, it might make the statistical analysis somewhat meaningless. 

If the Lady Red Devils have managed to make it two in a row, it probably translates into limiting the production of returning starter, Madison Legerski, Wyoming Cowgirls coach Joe Legerski's daughter, and the first player off the bench from last season's title team, for former Wyoming Cowboys basketball player and current Laramie coach, Rod Tyson, in Katie Kuhn. Laramie averages just a shade under 50 points per game, at 49.6, with almost half of that between the two Laramie seniors leaders — Kuhn scores 12.4 per game, with a deft touch from beyond the arc. Her 40 percent doesn't lead the 4A East, but among the percentage leaders, statewide, she fires up more than double the attempts per game for all but one player, at 7.6, canning three on average. Legerski is right behind, at 12 points per game, is top 10-ranked for her rebound production of 6.6 per game, and in steals, with 2.9 each time out.

Legerski's 3.7 blocked shots per game leads the 4A East, and is second statewide to only Natrona's Kaylee Johnson, at 5.3. Both Kuhn and Legerski shoot well from the free throw line, at 67 and 68 percent. In addition, junior Jacqui Pulley, at the point, dishes out four assists per contest, just like Evanston's MacKenzee Barker. Both are second in their respective conferences, heretofore, and tied for third in all of the 4A division. Pulley is also a legitimate three-ball threat and leads Laramie with 3.1 steals per game.

Fellow junior Caitlyn Hensley is top 10-ranked from the east conference, contributing 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 steals and while less than one per game, also cracks the east conference leaders list in blocked shots. Legerski scorched the nets for 25 points against Riverton; 28 by Natrona's Johnson, last season's Gatorade Player of the Year, is the best individual output thus far.

Evanston's statistics represent six of the eight games played, but the scoring averages can be updated through all eight games played. McKensie Herold continues to lead the Lady Red Devils in scoring, at 9.6 per game, up from 9.5. Cranford's scoring average has risen from 6.2 to 7.1 after last weekend, while O'Neill has stayed steady, scoring six points on average. Kylie Hurd's 5.2 ppg has dropped slightly, but freshman Brinae Sanders is contributed 3.5 ppg over the last couple times out.

Cranford leads the Lady Devils in offensive rebounds and overall with 4.7. Herold picks up a few more on the defensive side, and is second in total rebounds with 4.2 rpg. As mentioned, MacKenzee Barker tops the team with four assists per game, and Herold leads the Evanston in take-aways with 1.7 steals per contest.

Sophomore Alli Barker was sick last weekend, and had fallen into a slight slump prior to that, but can easily be among the team leaders in many categories with her very capable skills. The sophomore hit a big shot against Laramie last time, and saw another in the waning moments, for a tie, rim in and out, showing the way for Evanston with 11 against Laramie. O'Neill owns the best individual point production for a single game, with 17 against Rich County, with Herold next at 16 in the opener versus Windsor, Colo. Cranford has hit for 13 on two occasions.

Versus Sheridan

Stats rarely tell the entire story, but the story the top-ranked and undefeated Sheridan Lady Broncs’ statistics do tell might be deemed more of a nightmare than a story, in the minds of opposing coaches. Sheridan’s 58.1 points per game is fourth best in the state, but with little separation from the most prolific offense in the 4A ranks of Natrona County, at 62 per game. The Lady Broncs’ average margin of victory, at 26.6, limiting opponents to 31.6, does lead the state in both instances.

Sheridan is the best shooting team in the state at 50 percent, overall. The Lady Broncs are not represented in the 4A East’s top 10 individual scoring leaders category, which denotes spreading the wealth around with many weapons, without even looking at the averages. Sheridan has but three seniors, but a number of underclassmen, including freshmen from last year who played vital roles and saw lots of action for coach Sean Yeager. And a sensational freshman in Robbie Ryan this season.

Six-foot, one-inch senior post player Mali Wright does pull down 7.1 rebounds per game, good for second place in the 4A East, and blocks 1.3 shots per game. Two Lady Broncs are top 10-ranked, averaging over three assists per game in five-foot-eight senior Hailey Legocki, and the aforementioned five-foot, nine-inch freshman, Ryan.

Legocki leads her team in steals with 2.4 on average, also cracking the conference top 10, and hits 40 percent of the nearly three attempts from downtown each game. Senior Baylee Baker, at five-foot eight-inches, is also a threat from the land of three. Ryan converts an incredible 78 percent from the field, with Wright, five-foot, eight-inch junior Maddy McClure and Baker all converting between 54 and 56 percent of shots fired. Legocki leads the 4A East Conference and is second in the state from the free-throw line, with an 86 percent success rate.

Sheridan boasts experience, height, quickness and depth, with skill and sound team play as givens. Of the 12 listed on the varsity roster, nine have played in all seven wins for Sheridan, with six, five and four games, respectively, for the remaining three players.

With no player averaging double-figures in scoring, it still becomes a challenge to strategize whom to stop. Ryan tops the team with a 9.6 per game scoring average, with Legocki at 9.1. Five-foot, eight-inch sophomore Taylor Townsend chips in 8.9 per game, followed by Wright's 8.6, McClure's seven, 5.3 from Baker and 4.1 from sophomore Emily Julian.

Only one Lady Bronc contributes an averages of less than a point per game, and she's the girl who has seen time in only four of the seven games played. Everyone can score. Ryan owns the individual high game with 15, while Legocki and Wright have tossed in 14 more than once.

Sheridan's closest game came against the one common opponent they share with Evanston, and that was a 14-point, 47-33 win over Star Valley on Dec. 13. The have soundly defeated Green River, Billings-West, Riverton, Rock Springs, Union from Utah, and 3A neighboring community Buffalo, 57-31, their last time on the court on Dec. 20. The Lady Broncs will likely not have much of a challenge in their opener in the East-West tourney, with 0-8 Kelly Walsh as their Thursday opponent.

While it is usually a team's strategy, and a successful one at that, in setting out to stop or limit two to three standouts, forcing the other players to beat you, that game plan doesn't appear to be a workable solution against Sheridan, and perhaps a key factor in their undefeated record and No. 1 ranking, in a year with an incredibly talented Natrona team, a rock-solid Cheyenne East and perennial power in Gillette. There are some very good basketball teams in Wyoming's 4A and, so far, Sheridan is the best of the bunch.

Last year's meeting in the very same tournament and the same Riverton Middle School gym was played on Saturday afternoon. Sheridan was ranked second and Evanston was 4-7. Sheridan won 45-31, with Herold scoring six and Cranford netting four. For Sheridan, it wasn't their two senior leading scorers in Steph Sessions or Noelle Golinvaux who inflicted most of the damage, but rather Legocki, who scored 21, including draining five three-pointers. Sheridan will have the advantage of familiarity, playing their first two games at RMS gym.

Versus Thermopolis

Evanston will only play in two of the venues in use, beginning at CWC Rustler Gym with Laramie, and ending there against Thermopolis. They were a very good 2A team last season, and are 7-1 this year, ranked third in the latest WyoPreps.com Coaches and Media poll. Basketball, unlike many other sports such as football, is not as affected nearly as much by program numbers and school enrollment. With five-on-five, and parity on the bench through seven or eight players, small schools can hang right with their larger classification counterparts.   

The Lady Bobcats forced nine lead changes and five ties before eventually falling to Evanston, 32-36, on Jan. 6, 2012, and they return all but one starter; the Lady Bobcats’ strength definitely came in the form of their underclassmen last season, in particular five-foot, eight-inch guard Dana Bjorhus, who in January 2012 was averaging 18.2 points per game, and this year, netting 14.8. But teammate Jordan Leyba has increased her additions from 6.6 ppg to nine this season.

Bjorhus, with her complete game, would not only make any 3A or 4A team in the state, but start for most, if not all, and will probably end up playing at the next level. She led all scorers the last time the two teams squared off, with 17. Leyba was next, adding five points. Shelley Heap, the graduated senior paced Evanston with 14. Of the players back for this year, O'Neill had five, M. Barker, 4, with two each for Herold and Cranford.

Thermopolis' lone loss was to the top-ranked girl's team in 2A in Tongue River, which now boasts a perfect 5-0, and has been blowing teams out of the gym, including an 85-21 paddling of St. Stephens. The Lady Eagles pummeled the Lady Bobcats 52-28, but Thermopolis has had their way with Mountain View, St. Stephens, Big Horn, Lusk, Wright, Greybull and Burlington.

Following Bjorhus' 14.8 points per game and Leyba's 9, Sierra Schmidt, a five-foot-seven-inch freshman last season, is contributing 7.8, while the team's leading rebounder in varsity newcomer, Haylee Hoffman adds 5.5 points and seven rebounds per contest. Bjorhus also leads the team in assists and steals, with 4.9 and 3.9, respectively, with all of her team-highs holding down spots in the conference top 10; her 46 percent from beyond the arc and 84 percent from the free-throw line top the 2A classification. While she may have more help this season, comparatively, it's probably safe to say that as Bjorhus goes, so go the Lady Bobcats. But whoever gets the assignment or shared assignments of shutting down Bjorhus for Evanston, if and when the Lady Red Devils don't opt to play zone defense, will have their hands full, and even with a zone, her teammates will try to put their team leader in the position where she's likely to have the greatest success. She netted 23 her last time out against Burlington, while Layba scored 18 against Lusk.

Schmidt and Hoffman both have individual high games of 12, as does another returning starter in Desi Rangel, who stood five-foot, eight-inches tall as a junior. The Lady Bobcats show a varsity roster of 10, subject to change. Six players including Bailey Fisher and Christina Porath, and everyone mentioned above but Rangel, have played in all eight contests, with Rangel notching seven. Julia Blakesley and Katie Olsen have appeared in five games each.

Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m. to close out the tourney for both teams, with their boys teams next on the hardwood, with doubleheaders for all teams for all three days, and doubleheaders for the junior varsity games that precede the varsity contests, as well.

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