Once she realized she wasn’t going to crack the starting lineup for Evanston’s girls basketball team this winter, Leah Robinson didn’t give up or sulk on the bench.
The 6-foot senior made her next goal trying to at least earn starter’s minutes.
Robinson stashed in 17 points — on a night when no one on either team could find the range on offense — and added 12 rebounds and a blocked shot Friday night as the Wildkits ended a long drought against rival New Trier with a 44-28 Central Suburban League South division win.
The triumph boosted Evanston to 12-0 on the season and snapped an 8-game losing string in the head-to-head matchups between the two rivals. It marked the first time that the ETHS senior class has come out on top of the Trevians since 2013.
Defending conference champion New Trier, 6-6 overall, only netted a total of 14 points on their home court over the first three quarters and shot an abysmal 25 percent (9 for 36) while committing 22 turnovers overall.
Robinson rallied the Wildkits to what could only be described as a ragged victory. The visitors didn’t cope very well against the box-and-1 defense employed by veteran New Trier head coach Teri Rodgers against ETHS star Leighah-Amori Wool, who was held to 5 points and 4 field goal attempts.
“I’d say it was very, very ragged,” agreed Evanston first-year head coach Brittanny Johnson after the winners turned the ball over 21 times. “We really struggled tonight. That’s the first time anyone has shown us the box and 1 and Coach Rodgers is definitely a great coach. Everyone understands that Leighah is a great player — she’s the one you think of when you think of Evanston basketball — and I think we’ll see that defense again.
“But I also think we’ll do a better job against it when we see it again.”
On a night when the weather outside turned frightful, Robinson’s performance was nothing short of delightful for Wildkit fans. She even connected on a rare 3-point basket in the third quarter and cashed in at the free throw line, converting 8-of-9 attempts for the winners.
“I thought Leah was just phenomenal,” praised Johnson. “She’s one of our unsung seniors and she’s really taking advantage of her opportunities the last couple of weeks. She’s a senior who knows it’s her last go-around, and the way she’s playing right now is the way I envisioned she’d play last summer.
“She works hard, and it’s not that she doesn’t deserve to start. She just wasn’t right for what we’re trying to do (with a smaller lineup). She still has a positive attitude and she knows she can still contribute a lot coming off the bench.”
“It just feels amazing to finally come in here and beat New Trier,” Robinson said. “Our goal as a team is to go Downstate, and beating them is really good because we know we’ll see them again in the (state) playoffs.
“I am kinda disappointed that I’m not starting, but it gives some of the younger girls a chance to shine. Now my goal is to get starter’s minutes. I’m just pushing myself and working harder than ever.Not starting is just motivating me even more. That’s been a really solid motivator for me. I just want to play to the best of my potential.”
Robinson contributed a basket and two free throws to help the Wildkits, leading just 13-8 after 10 minutes, outscore New Trier 8-2 over the last 5 minutes of the first half. That was enough to stretch the halftime lead to 21-10 as the Trevians only mustered a total of 3 baskets in the first half.
The two teams combined for 17 turnovers in a sloppy third quarter, which ended with ETHS comfortably ahead 30-14.
Johnson said she could see the determination on her seniors’ faces in the lockerroom prior to the coach’s first exposure to the rivalry.
“One of my good friends is (former New Trier star) Deirdre Naughton and she was always talking about how special this rivalry is,” Johnson said. “I definitely felt that energy from them tonight, that extra motivation. This was the last chance they had to leave here with a win and this is a motivated group. It was a big opportunity for them, and it was a big win.”
Krystal Forrester added 6 points and 6 rebounds for the Kits, despite playing limited minutes due to foul trouble. Cate Murdock and Jacqueline Vinson each mustered 6 points for New Trier.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.