When freshman Leighah Amori-Wool muscled in a basket with 3 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in Thursday’s Class 4A Maine East Sectional tournament championship game, she pulled the Evanston girls basketball team to within three points of arch-rival New Trier.
But hope ran out for Evanston fans after that. By the time the Wildkits scored again, the top-seeded Trevians had earned a 53-43 victory and a date in next week’s super-sectional.
After trailing the Wildkits by four points entering the fourth quarter, New Trier outscored the losers 19-5 in the final period and sent ETHS to the sidelines with a final record of 22-8.
Evanston faltered down the stretch after a gutsy defensive effort over the first three quarters en route to their third loss to New Trier this season. In the fourth quarter, ETHS shot just 2-of-11 from the floor and turned the ball over six times.
It marked the second time this season the Kits have led New Trier (27-4) in the fourth quarter, only to come up short.
And this one hurt more than the last one.
“I don’t know if we ran out of gas there at the end, but we obviously lost our focus,” said ETHS head coach Elliot Whitefield. “That No. 11 (Alexa Czyzynski) killed us all year and we let her shoot some open shots, and New Trier got the momentum.
“New Trier won the conference and they were seeded higher than we were, so I guess the right team won. They played one quarter tonight better than we played our three quarters.”
Czyzynski, whose two late 3-point baskets rallied New Trier in the final regular season matchup between the two rivals, stuck in those 3-point daggers early in the fourth quarter this time. The senior guard’s back-to-back treys lifted New Trier to a 40-38 edge with 5:37 to play and Evanston never led again.
Czyzynski led New Trier with 16 points, as the Wildkits swarmed all over 6-foot-3 New Trier sophomore Jeannie Boehm and limited her to 11 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Krystal Forrester turned in a strong defensive performance against the star Trevian post, with a little help from her friends.
Evanston forced 18 turnovers by the winners and also out-rebounded New Trier 25-23, but couldn’t quite pull off a second straight sectional crown.
Sierra Clayborn paced the Wildkits with 13 points, with Seara Clayborn (8 points), Wool (7 points, 6 rebounds) and Dashae Shumate and Forrester with 6 points apiece also contributed in another typical balanced effort by Evanston.
The Wildkits battled to a 27-24 halftime advantage and led 38-34 after three quarters as Sierra Clayborn chalked up five points and a steal in the third period.
Clayborn, twin sister Seara, Shumate and reserves Ashley Smith and Mae DeVuono are part of a senior class that will be remembered as one of the most successful in school history. With a combined 49 victories over the past two years, the Kits matched the two-year string put together in the program in the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
That fact won’t ease the sting of the final defeat much.
“Sure, we could’ve done better because we wanted to win this sectional. But it was a good year and our effort was great tonight,” Whitefield said. “These seniors were program builders, and we wouldn’t be where we are without the Clayborn twins. One of the reasons I took the job (after coaching them as 7th and 8th graders) was to coach them again. They’re the kids that the others in the program all looked up to.
“We competed tonight --- we just didn’t execute down the stretch. I was hoping that shot by Leighah would break the ice for us (in the fourth quarter), but we looked tired. Our aggressiveness just wasn’t there at the end.”