Seara Clayborn called it “the biggest steal of my life.”
And because she pulled it off — setting up a pair of game-winning free throws by the Evanston senior guard with 4.4 seconds remaining — Clayborn capped off a fourth quarter rally and sent the Wildkit girls past Rockton Hononegah 55-53 in the second round of the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic basketball tournament today.
Evanston advanced to the Final Four of the tournament for the second straight year despite trailing by eight points with 4 minutes remaining in the game. Evanston, now 12-2, will meet Prospect at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the tourney semifinals, with the third place and championship games set for Monday night.
Clayborn ripped the ball away from Hononegah point guard Brandi Fier with the Lady Indians maneuvering for a possible game-winning shot, then sank two free throws at the other end to complete the improbable comeback. That effort helped the Wildkits overcame dismal 28 percent shooting from the field.
“Coach told us just to make sure we were playing strong help-side defense, so that’s what I did,” Clayborn said. “When I saw a chance for a steal, I just went for it. But I knew coach would be upset if I didn’t get it.
“This is definitely a confidence builder for us. We know as a team that if we play good defense, we’ll get offense from it. I think that’s the biggest steal of my life, the biggest steal I’ve ever had. But I was so nervous on that first free throw when it just bounced in.”
Clayborn’s steal was her fourth of the game and climaxed an 11-3 run by the winners to close out the contest. She finished with 8 points to back up twin sister Sierra (game-high 23 points), Dashae Shumate (11 points, 3 rebounds) and Leighah Wool (11 points, 7 rebounds).
After surrendering 30 points in the first half against a Hononegah squad that repeatedly burned the smaller Wildkits inside, ETHS played more effective defense in the second half. Hononegah aided the Evanston comeback by slowing the pace after grabbing a 50-43 advantage with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
“Those last couple of minutes I thought we did job of trapping them on defense without fouling,” said ETHS coach Elliot Whitefield. “We played under control more down the stretch. This was such a huge win for us, because they could’ve gotten frustrated (shooting 25 percent over the first three quarters) and given up. But our seniors kept even heads and made big plays down the stretch.
“We started to attack the basket better (led by the Clayborn twins), and when we did that, we were tough to handle. I think what was different about the second half was our effort and our urgency. We knew we were letting an opportunity slip away, and we had to play to win.”
Seara Clayborn scored underneath — with sister Sierra picking up an assist — with 2:20 remaining to knot the score at 51-51. But Fier answered with a pair of free throws, and when Sierra Clayborn missed a jumper in the lane, it appeared that the Lady Indians had regained control.
That’s when Evanston turned up the heat on defense. Wool’s steal and two subsequent free throws tied the score again and set up Clayborn’s final heroics.
“Leighah’s going to be a real good one for us,” said Whitefield regarding the freshman’s contributions. “She has the ability to be a big-time player. She needs to be more aggressive and she needs to stop playing second fiddle to the seniors all the time, even though I understand that’s being a good team player.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information