In front of a raucous crowd at Jerry Dalton Gym, the Natrona County boys’ basketball team rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit for an overtime victory over Evanston to give NC a sweep of the Reds Devils Friday. The Fillies started the evening with a hard-fought 51-34 win before the Mustangs’ late exploits resulted in a 62-57 win.
“We just had a spark in the fourth quarter,” NC junior Gibson Heathman said of the Mustangs’ comeback. “We increased the intensity and got some interceptions.”
Evanston led 48-39 with 4 minutes remaining before the Mustangs (9-7, 3-1 Class 4A West) began their charge with an all-court press. Heathman scored on a drive to the basket and scored on the rim seconds later after a turnover from Evanston to cut the deficit to 48-43.
Mustangs were just getting started.
Sophomore Brett Gifford converted a steal into a layup and, following another error from the Red Devil, a Heathman layup made it a 48-47 game, much to the crowd’s delight.
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“That’s the loudest I’ve heard here,” said Choler, who is in his third year as Mustangs head coach.
After another empty possession from Evanston, Heathman took the noise to another level with two free throws to give NC their first lead of the game with 1:28 on the clock.
Noah Conrad calmed the crowd with a 3-point corner to put the Red Devils (3-12, 0-4) in the lead, 51-49. Heathman responded with a drive to the edge 20 seconds later to tie the game. Neither team was able to score after that, so the fans were given an extra 5 minutes.
“We took the whole field and we were committed to getting the ball in,” Choler said of the Mustangs’ late charge. “And I thought we had guys coming off the bench and really helping turn the tide.”
In the extra session, juniors Isaac Patik and Heathman both scored inside and Evanston made just one of 4 free throws as NC took a 55-52 lead. The Mustangs put the game away at the free throw line, going 7 of 8 from the charity stripe in the final 66 seconds.
Heathman finished with a game-high 19 points for the Mustangs, who also got 10 points from Patik, nine from senior Jordan True and eight from second Colton Rogers.
“I’m so proud of these guys for fighting back,” Choler said. “Learning to win is a skill and we have to be in those kinds of situations to be able to learn that skill.”
Evanston had eight 3-pointers in the first half to lead 32-24 at the break. The Red Devils added two more in the third to extend the margin to 40-26. They only had two more after that, though – Conrad’s shot to tie the game and another from Bryton Smith at the end of extra time.
“I have to give credit to Evanston because they shot the ball really well,” Choler said. “I think we did a good job defending, but they just got shots.”
Heathman admitted that stopping the Red Devils’ perimeter play was something the Mustangs were focusing on at halftime.
“We knew we had to do a better job of closing their 3,” he said. “And I think our halftime chat really helped with that.”
Smith (14) and JR Zermeno (13) combined for 27 points and made three 3-pointers apiece, for Evanston.
The girls’ game didn’t have the drama of the boys’ game, but it took a second-quarter surge for the fillies (10-5, 2-2) to finally create some distance between the two teams.
Evanston (5-10, 1-3) led 15-14 early in the second on back-to-back triples from Kendall Fessler. NC junior Megan Hagar gave the Fillies the lead with a steal and a layup, added four free throws and senior Katelynn Campbell capped the run 9-0 with a 3-pointer to give NC a 1-0 lead. 23-15 at halftime.
The fillies pushed the lead into double digits in third before a late run from Evanston made it 33-26 heading into fourth. But Natrona County beat the Red Devils 18-8 in the last 8 minutes to win for only the second time in the last six games.
“When we get everyone together and we have that core group on the court, we can be really good,” said NC senior Emma Patik, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “We had some tough defeats at the start, but I would rather that than losing games at the end of the season.”
Patik scored the Fillies’ first six points of the game on Friday, but didn’t score again until the fourth quarter. With Patik held in check, Hagar took on the scoring role. She had 10 points in the second and third quarters to help NC hold Evanston at bay. She finished with 14 for the game and senior Tamryn Blom added nine.
“We’re still developing our depth,” NC head coach Brian Costello said. “But this team works hard and plays with passion. I want nothing but the best for this group and I think we are going in the right direction.”
The Mustangs and Fillies are back on the field Saturday when they host Green River.
Follow sportswriter Jack Nowlin on Twitter @wyovarsity