CASPER — The Evanston Red Devils traveled to Casper for their second meetings with the Natrona County Mustangs and the Kelly Walsh Trojans, marking the beginning of the second half of the conference season, where each team plays the other five schools at home and away. Evanston swept both Casper schools on Jan. 18 and 19 to begin the 4A West Conference run, earning a 57-51 victory over the Mustangs and a 47-36 win against the Trojans.
The Red Devils led the Mustangs early on, but NC picked up their first home court victory, 51-44, over fourth-ranked Evanston on Friday night, Feb. 8, in the “Orange Dungeon.” The Red Devils bounced back to beat fifth-ranked Kelly Walsh, 50-37, on Saturday afternoon, to pick up the weekend split.
The 4A West Conference standings shape up like this, with two weeks remaining in the season:
Riverton 5-1, 18-2
Evanston 5-2, 12-8
Kelly Walsh 4-3, 10-10
Natrona County 4-3, 8-10
Rock Springs 2-4, 7-12
Green River 0-7, 4-15
The Red Devils fell out of a tie for first place with Riverton, but the Wolverines only played one game on the weekend; that scenario will be reversed this week.
Versus Natrona County Mustangs
Friday night’s game got off to a rather inauspicious beginning, delayed by no referees present in a scheduling snafu.
The Red Devils jumped out to a 7-3 lead, and were up 14-11 at the completion of quarter number one, behind seven points from Kade Lym. With five minutes left in the second quarter, the home team had outscored the visitors 6 to 5, and it was a 19-17 ballgame. The Mustangs scored 13 in the second, with Evanston netting 10, resulting in a 24-24 tie at halftime. Matt Johnson led the Red Devils with 10 points.
NC outscored Evanston 14-11 in the third quarter to lead 38-35, and bested Evanston 13-9 in the final frame to win going away, 51-44, handing the Red Devils their second conference loss.
Johnson led Evanston with 14, while Lym added 11, the only two Red Devils reaching double digits. The senior duo — Evanston’s leading scorers on the season — had 19 and 20, respectively, in the Red Devils’ home win. Jemini Leckie chipped in seven, with fellow senior Taylor Siemers adding five. Freshman Brock Ehlers connected from beyond the arc to finish with three, with senior Austin Bowlen and sophomore Alek Johnson both adding two points.
Sophomore Parker Browning and senior Chance Meeboer paced the Mustangs with 11 points each; as Natrona County’s top scorers in the win against Evanston. The Red Devils again held six-foot, six-inch senior, Nathan Pieper, the Mustangs’ leading scorer on the season, to four points. Conner True added eight, Rhett Bratton contributed five, with Brett Kautzmann scoring four. Adam Britton and Logan Wilson both had three and James Sulser ended with two, as the Mustangs may have caught their stride in the second half of the conference season. They bombed Green River, 59-24, on Saturday.
Red Devils head Coach Roy Barker credited the Mustangs for coming out ready to play.
“They played really well,” Barker told the Herald. “They played hard and made us turn the ball over quite a bit. It’s a tough environment. They have fans standing right on the court hollering, and it gets intense, and they were battling.”
Barker then spoke of his own team’s play.
“We definitely struggled down the stretch, got a little bit shot-happy, and turned the ball over,” he said. “We started playing one-on-one, and we’re not good when we go one-on-one. Defensively, I thought we did all right. We would have held them to under 50, but had to foul in the end. But it was offensively where we fell back into our old one-on-one ways, and didn’t execute well. I think we just match up better with Kelly Walsh. They play so hard and are so well coached, but we match up better with them. Coach Roden and I talked about that. It’s just a conference of parity, where really any team in our league can step up and defeat any other team.”
When the question was posed to the head coach, about being satisfied with a split, going into the weekend, acknowledging that the Red Devils enter every game determined to win, with losing never acceptable, Barker affirmed.
“Of course, we’re never okay with a loss, but we hoped for a split. It’s tough to come in and win both,” he said.
The coach then elaborated on his team’s potential.
“If I thought we were playing great basketball, we would expect to win both,” he asserted. “We’re not playing great basketball. We’re playing good, but not great.”
Barker’s subtext may very well be referring to the fear coaching staffs can have of their team peaking too soon, with the hope that the Red Devils’ best basketball is yet to come, at the optimum time, during the regional and state tournaments.
Versus the fifth-ranked Kelly Walsh Trojans
In Saturday’s battle, pitting number four versus number five, according to the most recent rankings from the WyoPreps.com Coaches and Media poll, number four prevailed, as the Red Devils defeated Kelly Walsh 50-37 at the Trojans’ gym, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, which extended to a 13-2 advantage at the completion of the first quarter. The Red Devils earned a conference sweep, with two double-digit wins over Kelly Walsh.
And the Trojans were a hot team — winners of three consecutive — which included a 37-32 win over third-ranked, 18-and-two Riverton, which had previously only lost to number-one Gillette and a 20-point trouncing of rival Natrona County, 47-27, along with soundly defeating Green River, 57-34, the night before facing Evanston.
Evanston led start to finish, taking a 28-13 lead at the half, on top 38-24 with three quarters complete, continuing to lead 42-27 with five minutes remaining, and maintained the advantage, ahead 48-33 with two minutes left in the game. KW was never able to cut the lead to single digits.
Matt Johnson led all scorers with 20, with Leckie hitting for 12. Siemers and Alek Johnson both had seven, with Lym adding in four.
Unofficially, Evanston shot 11 of 26 from the field, hit four of 11 three-point attempts, and converted 16 of 22 free-throws.
Jacob Tapp and Kooper Adams each scored 12 for the Trojans, with nine points from Beecher Strube. The Trojan line was 11 field goals, three treys and a 6-7 performance from the stripe.
The Red Devils only committed nine personal fouls, compared to 20 called on the Trojans, accounting for Evanston shooting three times as many free-throws as KW.
“We talked with the kids after Friday night’s game, about what we needed to do differently and what we needed to do better,” Barker stated. “We came out Saturday and improved our execution. I thought we shared the ball better, and we boxed out better, but I still believe a lot of it comes down to matchups.”
The coach again brought up the parity factor, with his thoughts turning to the upcoming game with the Green River Wolves on Valentine’s Day, Thursday, Feb. 14.
“You can say that Green River is struggling somewhat, I suppose, but I believe that our kids know we have to come to play every night, and we can’t take anyone lightly, because again, any team can knock off any other team,” Barker noted.
Evanston defeated Green River, 51-35, on Jan. 25 in E-Town, but there were three ties and lead-changes, with the Wolves owning a 9-8 first quarter advantage. In that game, Blaine Christensen, Green River’s leading scorer, was limited to one three-point basket, perhaps unlikely to recur in his home gym.
“Hey, it’s Green River-Evanston,” Barker concluded, alluding to the rivalry factor where, despite one team having a mostly successful campaign, the struggling team relishes the role of being a spoiler, “and we know they will be ready to battle.”
Thursday’s tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Wolves’ gym, following the second meeting between the Lady Red Devils and Lady Wolves, with the two varsity squads next taking the floor on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23 at home, with Rock Springs and Riverton invading Evanston to close out the conference season for the Lady Red Devils and Red Devils.
Other scores in Wyoming 4A Basketball include, from Friday:
#1 Gillette 74,
Cheyenne South 45
#2 Laramie 73, Sheridan 67
and from Saturday:
#1 Gillette 68, #2 Laramie 49
#3 Riverton 59,
Rock Springs 33
Cheyenne South 38
Cheyenne Central 46,
Cheyenne East 41
Bridger Valley squads
It was not a great weekend for the varsity squads of Lyman, both ranked third in 3A hoops, as the Eagles were schooled by the unranked Powell Panthers in a 3A West Conference showdown, 64-46. The Lyman Lady Eagles were upset by the fifth-ranked Lady Panthers, 42-39.
Both Lyman teams did come back to earn conference victories over Cody, with the Eagles downing the Broncs, 51-42 and the Lyman girls winning 48-36.
The Mountain View teams also made the trip to Park County, with the Buffalos dropping a pair of conference clashes, 33-56 against Cody on Friday, and a 45-68 loss to Powell on Saturday.
The Lady Buffs competed well, dropping two decisions by a combined six points, 30-32 to the Cody Fillies on Friday, and 31-35 to the fifth-ranked Lady Panthers in Powell.
The 3A’s top-ranked Star Valley Braves annihilated the Pinedale Wranglers, 83-41, over the weekend. Braves senior Wyatt Shinaver, winner of the Flaming Gorge Classic Slam Dunk contest this past December, went off for 41 points, believed to be the highest individual output in all classes this season. The 41 points scored by Shinaver is also a Star Valley school record.