Coaches in the Central Suburban League are smart enough to some day figure out the best way for their girls basketball teams to defend Evanston.
But by that time, it might be too late to deny the Wildkits another CSL South division title.
With leading scorer Ambrea Gentle on the bench due to foul trouble, the Kits actually extended their lead in the third quarter and handed previously undefeated Glenbrook South a 68-52 loss at Beardsley Gymnasium Tuesday night.
Gentle’s 16 points lead four players in double figures for the winners, who improved to 8-1 on the season and 2-0 in division play. Both of those victories have come against the two leading contenders in the league, GBS and New Trier.
ETHS head coach Brittanny Johnson isn’t interested in any title talk — not this early in the year — despite the fact that the Wildkits turned in as complete a performance as she could have hoped for at this stage of the season.
Two players who were on the injured list at the start of the year, Kayla Henning and SyAnn Holmes, continue to make progress physically and combined for 22 points against the Titans. Junior Tyler Mayne contributed 14 points as ETHS pulled away from a 29-24 halftime advantage to a one-sided win.
Gentle has emerged as a dominant inside force in a league where there aren’t many “bigs” capable of staying with the 6-foot-2 junior at either end of the floor. But Evanston isn’t a one-trick pony that relies exclusively on Gentle.
“I think people are going to have to play us differently this year on defense, and our greatness as a team will be predicated on how well we react to that,” said Johnson. “Tonight we did a great job over the last three quarters, once we found the right matchups.
“GBS was sagging down on Brea, and you could tell that once she came out of the game, they didn’t know if they were still supposed to be doubling someone or not. That really opened things up for our shooters. Weirdly, taking out our dominant player actually helped us push forward as a team. It was a blessing and a curse, all at the same time.
“The first quarter was a little rough, so that was our best three quarters of the year. I don’t think we have a leg up in the CSL (race) yet. I won’t feel confident we can win it until we’ve won every game! But these two wins will be really helpful, because historically New Trier and GBS have been two of the better teams in the conference.”
Gentle, who also grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds, went to the bench with her third personal foul midway through the third quarter after notching 5 points to build the lead to 37-29. Freshman Lola Lesmond came off the bench and delivered a 3-point basket and a layup, Mayne followed with a 3-pointer of her own, and a scoop shot in the lane by Henning sent the hosts ahead 49-36 at the third quarter break.
GBS, which was making its final appearance at Beardsley under retiring head coach Steve Weissenstein, never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. Kristin Ralston led the Titans with 14 points.
The importance of more playing minutes for both Henning and Holmes couldn’t be overstated, at least in Johnson’s mind.
“We’re starting to get some of our pieces back now and we’re starting to become the team we thought we could be,” the coach said. “I think Kayla actually started to get over the hump when she got knocked down (Sunday) against Simeon. She got up and realized she was OK, and she kept playing. And today I could see her confidence coming back.
“I’m really excited for her because I know she was getting frustrated with her lack of production so far. She’s probably more like 80 percent (physically) now and I keep telling her that this is a process, that you have to learn to believe in yourself again. She still doesn’t fully trust herself yet, but she’s added so much to her game that she can be a totally different player once she’s healthy.”
The Wildkits also learned Tuesday that they’ve been awarded the No. 7 seed at the 16-team Montini Holiday Tournament. They’ll meet Lake Zurich in the first round of that tournament on December 26th at 6:30 p.m.