The scene was set for an epic Class 4A Jefferson County League boys basketball battle between Evergreen and D’Evelyn on Feb. 20. The props were in place, the actors were prepared and the anticipation was palpable.
In a game that featured two evenly matched teams that were equal in league record and both riding high on win streaks, everything was in place for a fight to the finish.
And indeed the Cougars (11-3 Jeffco, 17-6 overall) winners of seven straight games, and the Jaguars (10-4, 15-8) winners of five straight games, battled right up to the final whistle with the Cougars pulling away in the last two minutes of the game to earn the 59-52 victory and extend their season-ending win streak to eight.
The Cougars now head into the 4A state tournament with a good deal of confidence. Evergreen earned the No. 5 seed in the Ron Shavlik Region and host No. 12 Delta (8-11) Feb. 25. A victory would match the Cougars up against No. 4 Thomas Jefferson (15-8) in the second round Feb. 28.
“We’re just playing well as a team,” Evergreen coach Scott Haebe said. “I think we’re playing with more discipline and we’re playing a little bit stronger. That’s what you want going into the post season – on a roll and playing with some confidence.”
But on a night when Evergreen gave special recognition to its senior players playing in their final regular season home game, it was junior Maciah Herbert who stole the spotlight, and indeed, the game.
With just two minutes to play in the game and the Cougars clinging to a paper-thin two-point lead, Herbert stole the ball from D’Evelyn’s Sean Hintz and sprinted down the court for a layup that proved to be the winning points.
“I’m always on my toes,” Herbert said. “I saw the guy coming and his arm was outside so I just went for it.”
Surprisingly though, Herbert, perhaps fearing the wrath of his coach, was more concerned with how he finished the play than how he started it.
“I was thinking if I should dunk it or if I should just lay it in,” he said. “But I knew if I tried dunking it would probably be the end of my career.”
But a good portion of the credit for the win also had to go to the Cougars’ defense which effectively erased Jaguars’ leading scorer Jeremy Sullivan for the first three quarters of the game.
Sullivan, who torched the Evergreen defense for 21 points in a game earlier this season, was held to just 11 points. The senior star faced double teams every time he touched the ball and a hand in his face on every shot attempt.
Sullivan started to heat up in the fourth quarter tying the game at 47 with a 3-pointer, and then again at 49 with a trick shot in the lane between two defenders.
But twice in the final minute of the game, Sullivan drove the ball into the heart of the Evergreen defense, and twice he came away empty-handed due to defensive pressure applied by the Cougars, which forced him to take off balance shots that bounced of the rim, effectively ending the threat of a late-game Jaguars’ rally.
“(Sullivan)’s a great player,” Haebe said. “But I thought we did a really good job on him. He never really got on one of his rolls where he just goes and takes over the game.”