Before a crowd of nearly 3500, Evanston proved that when it mattered the most, they were the kings of the north shore.
The Kits defeated Loyola in the sectional semifinals on Tuesday before beating New Trier on Friday in the championship to advance to the elite eight for the second year in a row.
Both games followed similar paths. ETHS got an early lead, then they fought to hold on.
In the first game, Evanston found itself with a 20-5 lead after the first quarter largely due to Lance Jones’ individual greatness. The quick, powerful guard scored 13 points in the first quarter alone and ended with a game-high 25 points.
The Kits could do no wrong on defense in the first period only allowing 2 field goals.
At halftime, ETHS went to the locker room with a 31-20 lead. But the Ramblers wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Loyola suddenly got hot from three-point land in the form of Kevin Cunningham. The senior guard converted 7 three-pointers in the game and finished with 24 points total.
Although Evanston’s lead had completely vanished with half of the third quarter still to play, the game tied at 35 apiece, the Kits never let Loyola in front.
“We knew that Cunningham is a great shooter,” Blake Peters said when speaking to a reporter from Evanston Now. “But when he caught fire I thought we did a great job of staying calm and not panicking.”
When the game stayed close in the fourth quarter, the Evanston spark came from an unlikely source.
With starter Jaheim Holden out with foul trouble, freshman Elijah Bull made the most of his minutes.
He scored 5 points, a three and two huge free-throws. Bull’s three made the score 48-37 and Loyola couldn’t recover.
The triumph over the Ramblers set up the third matchup of the season against New Trier.
The teams had split the first two meetings with New Trier coming away with a 56-40 win at Beardsley Gym in the most recent game, and the Kits were out for revenge.
Again ETHS got off to a quick start building an impressive 20-11 lead after one quarter. This time Blake Peters led the early attack. Peters set the tone, knocking back New Trier with three early jump shots. He finished with a game-high 19 points.
“I have to admit that I played horrible in both games against New Trier,” Peters said to Evanston Now.” I felt like I let my teammates down with both performances. But once I started hitting some shots tonight, we were able to feed off that barrage.”
In the second quarter, the game calmed down a bit and Evanston went into the locker room with a 33-20 advantage.
But just as the Ramblers had three days prior, the Trevians came out fighting after an impromptu halftime show had concluded.
The halftime festivities began with the Trevian mascot dancing on the sideline to various well-known songs played over the PA system. Then the mascot ran onto the floor and started really showing off his moves.
Soon the announcer sensed what was happening and asked the Evanston students to come and compete with the Mascot. Three students from the Evanston student section accepted the challenge and every fan in the gym enjoyed the show.
As I said, the Trevians came out fighting. They forced turnovers on defense and ETHS started missing the threes that they had been converting in the first half.
New Trier cut the lead down to as little as 5 points on two occasions, but that’s when Holden, who had been held quiet in the first half, stepped up. Holden got steals, free-throws and even some of his patented high-flying acrobatic layups against the Trevians’ 6’9″ monster Ciaran Brayboy.
Holden finished the night with 16 points.
Evanston rode a 7-0 run late in the fourth quarter to a 69-57 win.
“It feels really good because a lot of people didn’t think we’d make it this far,” Jones said to Evanston Now. “They counted us out and that’s what makes this feel really amazing.”
Jones also scored 15 points including 4 three-pointers.
The Kits will face Lake Zurich in the Super Sectional this Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates for the chance to go to Peoria for the first time in 10 years.