Following an eight-day layoff, Evergreen girls basketball coach Ali Johnston thought her squad might be a bit rusty coming out of the starting blocks.
After earning a first-round bye thanks to a second-place finish in the Jefferson County League, the Cougars, seeded third in the Tracy Hill Region of the Class 4A state tournament, hadn’t played a game since their 54-40 win over Ralston Valley on Feb. 22.
The players proved their coach to be spot on in the prognostication department, as Evergreen started off slow in its second round tilt against No. 6 Widefield. The Cougars turned the ball over on its first three possessions and trailed for most of the first quarter.
Once they finally kicked things into gear, the Cougars left the Gladiators in their dust.
Tricia Oakes and Grace Beaudin gave the home squad a lethal inside-out combination, as the two scored 34 points between them, guiding Evergreen into the Sweet 16 with a convincing 66-46 win Mar. 1 at Evergreen High School.
“The tension was definitely huge,” said Oakes, who scored 15 points and had seven blocks. “We definitely came out nervous, but we got over that and blew them away.”
Evergreen (16-8) winners of eight straight games, faces No. 2 Sierra at 5:15 on Mar. 7 at Golden High School. The winner takes on either No. 1 Golden (20-4) or No. 4 Northridge (19-5) at 1 p.m. Mar. 8, with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
Golden was the last team to beat Evergreen, handing the Cougars a 66-52 defeat Jan. 29 in Golden. The two schools played a much-closer game Jan. 7 at Evergreen as part of the Jeffco Tournament. The Cougars rallied from a 14-point first quarter deficit to force overtime before eventually falling by three, 57-54.
“We played the toughest preseason schedule in the state,” Oakes said. “We didn’t have a lot of varsity experience on the team. We lost five seniors from last year’s team. I knew there would be struggles in the beginning, but once we got those games under our belt, the girls became more confident and we just bonded and meshed.
“We’re ready. This is it.”
The win on Mar. 1 excised some recent demons for the Cougars. Last year Evergreen was knocked out of the tournament in the second round on its home floor by Rifle on a shot in the closing seconds.
“I think we all let out a big sigh of relief,” Johnston said after the game. “It’s been four years since we’ve won a playoff game. To do it on our home court after losing here last year in the same spot, it means a lot to myself, the seniors and everyone on the team.”
After the sluggish first quarter, an 8-0 run by Evergreen early in the second quarter gave the home team an 11-point lead, a lead they would carry into halftime.
Widefield went on a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter, trimming a 15-point deficit to seven, but they wouldn’t get any closer the rest of the way as Beaudin and Megan Hodson started to find their range from the perimeter.
Beaudin, who was nearly perfect from the free-throw line (10-of-12), was fouled attempting a 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer and subsequently, sank all three foul shots to push the Cougars’ lead back up to 11 starting the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, Evergreen wasted little time putting Widefield away for good.
Beaudin, who led all scorers with 19 points, opened the quarter with a three and a 3-point play by Katie Helf (11 points) gave the Cougars a 15-point lead.
Widefield: Kimberly Herndon 5 2-2 12, Jennifer Buchwalter 2 0-2 5, Mindi Cooper-Church 4 3-3 11, Molly Beyers 2 1-2 5, Kayla Hughes 2 2-3 6, Raven Cooper-Church 1 0-0 2, Majana McCollum 1 0-0 2, Kayla Schuerkamp 1 0-0 3. Totals: 18 8-12 46.
Evergreen: Tricia Oakes 6 3-9 15, Kate Oakes 2 2-4 6, Grace Beaudin 4 10-12 19, Megan Hodson 3 2-2 8, Kimmy Baroch 2 0-2 4, Kelsey Bestall 1 0-0 2, Katie Helf 4 3-3 11, Tayler Warren 0 1-2 1. Totals: 22 21-34 66.
3-pt. goals: Buckwalter, Schuerkamp; Beaudin.