Mar 2, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterThey led after the first quarter. And they led after the second quarter. And they still led after the third quarter.
In their home gym with a supportive band and crowd, the Riverton Lady Wolverines, who have struggled mightily all year, found themselves in a place they hadn't been before, late in a basketball game with a chance to win. Adding to the pressure was that they were so, so close to winning "the" game that counted, their first-round Class 4-A West tournament game against Evanston. And, they were so close to winning and getting to the state tournament after not winning a single conference game all year.
Oh, they were so close.
But in the end, Evanston's full-court defensive pressure that forced turnover after turnover trumped Riverton's zone defense that gave the Lady Red Devils fits all night long. Evanston advanced to the regional semi-final with a 30-27 win over Riverton and will play Rock Springs Thursday at 4 p.m.
In the other girls first round game, Casper Kelly Walsh beat Green River 42-33 to advance to play Rock Springs Friday at 7 p.m.
Just five days ago, Evanston had beaten Riverton 45-28 in their final regular season game.
But Thursday's game was different. And it was Sheridan Smith, Riverton's 5-foot-9 senior, who got the Lady Wolverines out of the gate early and with enthusiasm.
Smith scored the first seven points for the Wolverines and ended with 12 to lead all scorers. After holding an early lead, the signature play of the first half came when Smith ripped the ball from Lady Red Devil Meghan Cranford and gave Riverton a 13-9 lead with a putback. Cranford came out of the game bleeding from her nose. Smith and the Lady Wolverines had sent a message, and Evanston was in trouble.
The aggressive Riverton defense kept Evanston to just one point in the second quarter, and when Hanna Soll turned from the right side corner at half court and heaved a shot that banked in at the buzzer, the Riverton team and crowd went nuts. Riverton had a shocking 18-9 halftime lead.
But as the team was celebrating, RHS head coach Ron Porter was on ahis way to the locker room knowing that his team was exceeding expectations but still had a half to play.
"We talked about this last week. We told them that when you find yourselves in the position that you will be in, we talked about being ahead and being composed. I was confident, there was something that I felt really really good about, but they hadn't been in that position. But we took a step tonight," Porter said.
After Marcia Ashdown received her fifth foul early in the the fourth quarter, the Lady Wolverines struggled to advance the ball to the front court.
In all, the Lady Wolverines committed a staggering 45 turnovers.
"You could see us get rattled when you have that many turnovers. I had hoped to put Marcia in for a few minutes in the fourth quarter, take her out, and get her back in," Porter said.
Riverton also left plenty of points at the free-throw line, hitting just 6 of 15.
"I tried to explain to them that their effort was a staple all year. They gave it everything they had. Not one of them wanted to turn the ball over. Not one of them wanted to miss a free throw.
"I am awfully proud to be a part of a bunch of kids who invested like that. I thought we would win. That may sound crazy, but that is how I felt. Regardless of the record, we told our seniors that they invested in something that maybe wasn't the coolest thing at Riverton High School to invest in. They will leave their mark on this program," Porter said.
Riverton 5 13 3 6 -- 27
Evanston 8 1 11 10 -- 30
Riverton (27) -- Kyla Randall 0 0-0 0; Marcia Ashdown 1 0-0 2, Hannah Soll 0 (1) 0-0 3, Sheridan Smith 4 3-4 12, Hannah Svilar 3 2-6 8, Bree Olson 0 0-0 0, Annie Phister 0 0-0 0, Taylor Hunt 0 0-0 0, Amy Woodward 1 0-2 2, Kristen Bailey 0 0-1 0. Totals 9 (1) 6-15 27.
Evanston (30) -- Sarah Peterson 3 0-2 6, Shelley Heap 3 1-2 7, Meghan Cranford 1 1-4 3, MaKenzie Kofoed 2 91) 1-3 8, McKensie Herold 2 (1) 1-3 8, MacKenzee Barker 0 0-1 0, Brinkerhoff 0 0-0 0, Hailey O'Neill 1 2-3 4. Totals 10 (1) 7-19 30.
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