The girls basketball teams from Janesville Craig and Evansville each relieved a little stress Thursday night.
The Cougars’ first three games had been decided by nine total points, so they were thankful to avoid another nail-biter with a 70-54 nonconference victory.
“Nine points in three games, so I said to them in pregame, can I just have one where the last 10 minutes we can give my heart a little break?” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken said. “It was nice to get everyone some minutes.”
And the Blue Devils were simply happy to be playing at all. They had only been allowed to practice the past couple weeks but were given the go-ahead to play games by district officials Wednesday night.
“It’s been a winter where every day is a new day, and you don’t know what the next day is going to bring,” Evansville coach Tony Wiemiller said. “These girls fought through a lot of adversity to this point.
“I’m proud of how they fought until the end tonight.”
The outside shooting of Craig made the difference in a first half where the Cougars led by as many as 21 points.
Sophomore Ellie Magestro-Kennedy, who has a Division I college scholarship offer from North Dakota, made four of her five 3-pointers in the opening 18 minutes on the way to a game-high 22 points total.
“My teammates put me in all the right positions and found me—couldn’t have done it without them,” Magestro-Kennedy said. “When we work together as a team and as we keep coming together more, it’ll work like a well-oiled machine.”
The Cougars (2-2) led 34-18 at halftime. Senior Claudia Fieiras scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half as they pushed the advantage as high as 28 with about seven minutes left in the game.
Craig emptied its bench for much of the final five minutes. But Evansville, playing in its first game after fearing it would have no season at all, had no intentions of giving in and whittled the deficit down to the final 16-point margin.
“When we first got the final say that we weren’t going to have a season, the immediate reaction for a lot of the girls was, OK, we’re done, and they wanted to throw in the towel,” Wiemiller said. “But it was no more than 12 hours later I was getting texts that they were in a gym working already.
“They’ve got a lot of fight in them, and they’re hungry and they’re a young team. So this was a good start, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow.”
Freshman Ava Brandenburg led the Blue Devils with 17 points, while sophomore Maria Messling had 15.
Thursday’s game was the first for Craig with zero fans in attendance.
Janesville allows players of the home team two tickets each so families can see them play. And Craig’s early road opponents have had similar protocols.
But in order to play Thursday, Craig agreed to Evansville’s district protocols which call for no fans at all.
The difference between zero fans and a couple dozen fans was noticeable.
“As a team, we were there for each other and cheering each other on—good and bad plays—through the whole thing, and the coaches, too, just trying to be as amped up as we could,” Magestro-Kennedy said. “But any chance we get to play is just awesome. We’re fortunate.”
“We talked in the pregame that you’ve got to bring your own energy,” Storbakken said. “It was a little eerie.”
CRAIG 70, EVANSVILLE 54
Evansville (54)—Hazard 1-0-3, Hinkle 1-7-9, Hermanson 0-3-3, Tofte 2-1-7, Brandenburg 7-2-17, Messling 6-0-15. Totals: 17-13-54.
Craig (70)—Campbell 3-0-7, Huml 2-0-6, Magestro-Kennedy 8-1-22, Fieiras 6-2-17, Clarke 1-2-4, McBride 4-0-8, Nicholson 1-3-5, Alderman 0-1-1. Totals: 25-9-70.
Evansville 18 36—54
Janesville Craig 34 36—70
3-point goals—Evansville 7 (Messling 3, Tofte 2, Hazard, Brandenburg), Craig 11 (Magestro-Kennedy 5, Fieiras 3, Huml 2, Campbell). Free throws missed—Evansville 7, Craig 8). Total fouls—Evansville 13, Craig 20. Fouled out—Campbell.