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News / Sports / Prep Sports

Evergreen girls fall to Eastside Catholic 57-37 in program’s first state playoff game since 2011

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 20, 2024, 10:43pm
10 Photos
Alexis Echols (3) of Evergreen takes a shot against Linda Nduka (4) of Eastside Catholic in a Class 3A state playoff girls basketball game at Evergreen High School on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024.
Alexis Echols (3) of Evergreen takes a shot against Linda Nduka (4) of Eastside Catholic in a Class 3A state playoff girls basketball game at Evergreen High School on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Alexis Echols joined the Evergreen girls basketball team on a bet.

The senior, whose primary sport is volleyball, hadn’t played basketball at Evergreen since she was a sophomore. But going into the school year, she began hearing from several Evergreen basketball players who wanted her to join the team, including junior Aiyanah Sefronio-Byrd.

The agreement went like this: if Sefronio-Byrd stuck with volleyball through the end of the fall season, then Echols would return the favor for basketball in the winter.

After the first part was complete, Echols knew she owed it to her teammate to follow through, even though she was hesitant at first.

“It was a tough, tough start and I hated basketball, like, I will say that passionately … but the girls hounded me every day, texting, calling, in the hallways,” Echols said.

“I’m just so appreciative that I did (play basketball) and just thankful (to) myself for sticking through it, because the beginning of the season was so hard. It just all feels so worth it now.”

Echols’ experience was similar to the whole team. After an up and down opening month, the Plainsmen became better as the season went on and cherished the time they spent together.

Evergreen repeated as 3A Greater St. Helens League champions, then won its first game of the 3A bi-district tournament to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2011. That led to Tuesday’s 3A state opening round home game against No. 17 seed Eastside Catholic, which claimed a 57-37 win over the No. 16 Plainsmen and advanced to Saturday’s game against No. 9 Lake Washington.

The Crusaders’ (11-16) defense held Evergreen in check and balanced scoring from the likes of Linda Nduka (15 points), Olivia Wollum (14 points) and Dream Mika (13 points) proved to be too much for the Plainsmen to overcome. Junior Adrian Wright led Evergreen (12-12) with 16 points and sophomore Kimora Ross added 10 points.

“It’s hard ending on a tough loss,” Echols said. “But I feel like the things that we accomplished this season and overcame, the games that we (blew) people out, making it this far, winning our first playoff game, it was all worth it. I would do it all over again, even if I knew it would end here.”

The Plainsmen trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before making a late run in the second quarter, finished off by baskets from senior Christina Nguyen and Wright to get within four points at halftime.

Near the start the third quarter, Echols drew a foul on a made layup and converted the three-point play, trimming Eastside Catholic’s lead to 25-22. But the Plainsmen were never able to get over the hump, and ultimately outscored by the Crusaders 20-6 in the quarter.

To reach state, Evergreen overcame a 4-7 start in December, while dealing with numerous injuries, illnesses and also facing the added challenge of not having a full team together for workouts over much of the offseason. Building cohesion with a new group took time. Still, players and coaches agree the season was a resounding success.

“Many of the (players) that we received back this year were better basketball talent. It was still a challenge to mesh all the personalities (and) the different characters. That was the real job,” Evergreen coach Charles Neal said. “But after we got that done … we talked about this in our team meeting just now, it’s a different type of feeling when you have an obstacle, you handle it the right way and you overcome it.”

Though the Plainsmen graduate two seniors in Echols and Nguyen, they have a strong group of returners led by leading scorers Ross and Wright.

However, they recognize the inherent challenges that lie ahead. After Evergreen claimed a league title in 2022-23 for the first time since 1980, the team learned this season it’s sometimes more difficult to stay on top than it is to climb there from the bottom. They also showed they’re plenty capable of handling those challenges.

“I was explaining to them, it was harder than it was last year, it was way harder,” Neal said, “and to fully expect it to be exponentially harder next year if we want to try to do the same thing, have the same type of accomplishments. If we find ourselves in this position next year, expect it to be harder. So, we’re getting better at doing hard. We’re not asking for easy, we don’t want anything to be easier. We’re just trying to make ourselves stronger so we can do hard better.”

EASTSIDE CATHOLIC 57, EVERGREEN 37

EASTSIDE CATHOLIC — Roxy Hollyhead 3, Olivia Wollum 14, Linda Nduka 15, Tatum Carter 5, Zoe Hamilton 1, Mia Hizer 3, Ella Hizer 0, Talia Cermak 3, Kate D’Ambrosio 0, Dream Mika 13.

EVERGREEN — Angel Bustamante 0, Alexis Echols 3, Devan Young 0, Damarian Draine 0, Fatima Juwara 0, Kimora Ross 10, Christina Nguyen 4, Maya Calhoun 4, Aiyanah Byrd 0, Adrian Wright 16, Maria Ndifanja 0. Totals 14 (1) 8-20 37.

E. Catholic 8 15 20 14—57

Evergreen 7 12 6 12—37

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