EVERGREEN — The blueprint every Class 4A girls basketball team might want to take notice of was drawn up Friday night at Evergreen High School.
Class 5A Jeffco’s Dakota Ridge used constant full-court pressure defense and drained a few key 3-pointers in the second half to defeat the two-time defending 4A state champion Evergreen Cougars.
“We’ve been getting more shots that our opponents, but we just are getting the ball in,” Dakota Ridge coach Diane Thompson said of the Eagles’ shooting issues. “I figure if I can come up with a defensive scheme that’s our best chance to win.”
The Eagles defeated Evergreen 38-26. The Cougars are currently ranked No. 2 in the CHSAANow.com 4A girls basketball poll and the loss ended a 12-game winning streak dating back to last season.
“We knew this team was going to be hard,” Evergreen senior Claudia Dillon said after the loss. “We prepared as much as we could, but obviously not enough. It showed how young our team is. They are all really talented, but they just have to control the ball and do their stuff. We need them.”
Turnovers plagued the Cougars throughout the game. Evergreen was held to just eight points at halftime. The Cougars limited to less than 30 points for the first time since Dillon walked onto the court for Evergreen nearly four years ago.
“After winning state the last two years it has put a target on us and on my back,” said Dillon, who was the lone Cougar in double-digits with 12 points. “We knew this was going to happen. We just have to be a little more prepared for it.”
One of Evergreen’s signatures over the past several years was a bevy of guards who were able to manage the court on both ends of the court. However, the Cougars graduated all of their experienced backcourt players last year.
“I saw a lot of deer in the headlights,” Evergreen coach Maddy Hornecker admitted. “I expected to see that given how fresh and new our team is to varsity basketball. I think it’s good to see this early. We know we are going to see this for the rest of the season now.”
Thompson focused her team on containing the 6-foot-2 Dillon and hopefully getting a handful of key baskets at the right time. That’s precisely what happened late in the third quarter.
Junior Emily Doolittle hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute of the third quarter to extend Dakota Ridge’s lead to 29-14 heading to the final quarter.
“We just had to pull it out,” Doolittle said of her two huge 3-pointers. “I felt like we were on a bit of a downward spiral and we had to get the energy back.”
Junior Taylor Legault, who finished with a team-high 12 points, along with senior Sydney Daniels each had a key bucket in the fourth quarter when Evergreen was trying to make a run. Senior Maggie Hawley buried a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter that brought back the Eagles’ lead back to 15 points.
“Tonight a few shots fell. (Doolittle) hit a couple of big 3s,” Thompson said. “We attacked the basket and got their bigs (Dillon sisters) in foul trouble.”
Junior Hayley Dillon got on track offensively in the second half for the Cougars, but fouled out with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter.
Dakota Ridge (2-3 record) is back on the court next week in a tournament that the Eagles co-host with Cherry Creek. The Eagles are scheduled to face Mesa Ridge at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12.
“We just want to keep getting better,” Thompson said. “It’s early in the season. We are growing and we have injuries. If we get wins along the way it’s just bonus.”
Evergreen (2-1) will regroup after suffering its first loss with Hornecker at the helm. The 2012 Ralston Valley High School graduate was an assistant coach the past two years at Evergreen. She took over the head coaching duties after Amy Bahl announced she was stepping away from the program before the birth of her third daughter.
Bahl coached the Cougars to the last three Class 4A girls basketball state championship game. After losing the title game in 2016, Evergreen won back-to-back state championship titles in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s been interesting I’d say,” Hornecker said of the first few weeks of the season. “A lot pressure for sure and I feel that, but I have the same expectations. Being under Amy for two years and during the summer I feel like we’ve transitioned well. There are still kinks that we have to figure out here and there.”
Evergreen has its first road game at Mullen at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12. It should be a good test for the Cougars. Mullen (3-1 record) is ranked No. 6 in 4A and lone lost this season came earlier this week to 5A’s No. 2 Regis Jesuit.