Evanston came out on top against Notre Dame Friday night, defeating the Dons 80-68 at Beardsley Gym, taking home the regional championship for the sixth year in a row.
ETHS’ starters, Ryan Bost, Jaylin Gibson, Jaheim Holden, Lance Jones and Blake Peters, carried the load for the Kits, scoring all 80 points in a tireless manner.
“They really played hard on defense and smart on offense and when you have that combination, it is something that can be really productive for you,” coach Mike Ellis said.
While Ellis was content with the play of his five-guard starting lineup, he did have some concerns, being the defensive-minded coach that he is.
“I wouldn’t like to see us give up 68 points very often but we converted a lot of shots around the rim and made plays,” Ellis explained.
While Ellis felt like there was room for improvement, the Kits had no small task guarding star Notre Dame sophomore guards Troy D’Amico and Anthony Sayles . Sayles was the top scorer for Notre Dame, as the Haven Middle School alum tallied 25.
“He’s a phenomenal player, he’s tough to guard, but at the end of the day you have to follow the script and do whatever you can to contain him,” Jones said.
Jones put up 25 himself and was the top scorer for Evanston, giving him a similar statline to Sayles, a childhood friend of his. Fortunately for Evanston, Jones had more support around him, as three other Kits had double digits in the scoring column.
The Kits’ second leading scorer, Jaheim Holden, also had a night to remember, putting up 21 points, 15 of which came in the final quarter.
The 5’10” point guard ended his career in Beardsley with a bang, stealing the ball from Notre Dame’s Sayles with only 20 seconds remaining and taking it back on a one-man fast break, elevating to the rim and slamming down his first ever dunk in game.
“I think it’s a special moment that’s going to last forever for me, and to end like that is just never going to go away from me,” Holden explained.
Holden, along with the rest of the team, was ecstatic after such a monumental personal performance and another playoff win, but knows it was only the first step.
“I’ve been on varsity for three years now and just from the experience, they’ve always told me we still got a job to do,” Holden said. “So I try to take that and carry that to this team and tell this team that it’s a nice championship to win but we have a long way to go.”
With only 32 teams remaining in the state tournament, the top seeded Wildkits will face off against the fifth seed Glenbrook South this Tuesday at Niles North.
Evanston split the season series with the Titans losing in what was their first game and only loss in conference play of the season. However, in the rematch on Jan. 18, the Kits prevailed, beating GBS 50-41.
“It’s just step one for us, now we face a Glenbrook South team that beat us at the start of the year in conference play, so we need to show up focused and ready to play,” Ellis said.
The win Friday night gives Evanston its tenth straight victory, as they improve to 28-4. A win on Tuesday against the Titans, who are 24-8, would put ETHS into the sectional championship game.
Even though Evanston is ranked fourth in Illinois and GBS is put modestly as the 41st best team in the state, Tuesday night’s game will present Evanston with the toughest competition they’ve seen in the state playoffs thus far.