CASPER — At this point in the basketball season, it’s survive and move on. And that is exactly what the Campbell County girls did Thursday night.
The Camels scored just two points in the opening quarter of their first round Class 4A state tournament game against Evanston at Casper College, but responded with an 18-0 second-quarter run that vaulted Gillette to a 40-16 win.
The Camels, the second seed out of the East Conference, will play the West’s top seed Casper Natrona at 6 p.m. Friday in the second semifinal of the night in the Casper Events Center. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Sheridan-Cheyenne East game for the state title Saturday evening.
But dreaming of state titles was the farthest thing from the minds of the Camels Thursday.
“That is the fourth or fifth time this year that we’ve had a two-point quarter,” Gillette coach Mitch Holst said. “You would hope that wouldn’t happen with a veteran team but it did. And whenever that happens, you have to be good on defense.”
Lucky for the Camels, Shelby Johnson did just that. The junior provided enough scrappy play to keep the close and then Sierra Toms went to work on the offensive side to ensure Gillette would move into the semifinals for the 12th-straight year under Holst.
The one certainty at state is that nothing is certain and the high-scoring Camels found that out early as they came out flat offensively. In fact, Gillette didn’t score its first field goal until the 7:20 mark of the second quarter. Yet only trailed by four due to its defense.
But that field goal, a layup by Toms, sparked an 18-0 run that put Gillette up 20-6 at the half.
“This is a big stage, I think it was a little bit of nerves to begin with,” Toms said. “Once we started getting comfortable with the situation, we made things happen on defense. And our defense fuels our offense. We made plays on defense and that really helped us start scoring.”
A pair of free throws from Toms was all the Camel could manage in the first quarter but Johnson was all over the court defensively, grabbing rebounds, causing turnovers and getting some steals.
“That was big, to be able to lean on someone that has played a big role all year,” Holst said of Johnson’s play. “But you need some people to show up.”
The Red Devils ended up going more than 13 minutes without scoring at one point, including the entire second quarter. That turned their first-quarter lead into a 14-point halftime deficit that eventually grew to a 25-point deficit.
While Johnson was the defensive spark in the first quarter, it was Toms and Julia Seamans that got the Camels jump-started offensively.
Toms ended up with a game-high 16 points, equal to what Evanston managed as a team, and combined with Seamans to score 17 points in the second and third quarters. That was plenty to get Gillette off and running.
Seamans finished the game with eight points while Johnson, who scored just one basket, had six rebounds and a couple of steals.
“That’s kind of been our thing, mentally. We feel defeated if things don’t go our way,” Toms said. “And (Thursday) I never saw that. We were positive and we never felt like we were never going to come back from this. Yeah, it was only a four-point difference, but we stayed positive throughout the whole thing.”
The Camels were held 20 points below their regular season scoring average but Holst wasn’t surprised by that. That comes with the territory and the time of year, he said.
“It’s going to be tougher here, it usually is,” Holst said. “(Evanston) is stingy. They play a pretty soft man defense and you’re going to have to shoot it sometimes. And we didn’t shoot it straight at all.”
But neither did the Red Devils.
Evanston made just 6 of 35 field goal attempts. Some of that was the ball just not getting the right bounce but a lot of it was the Camel defenders altering shots.
“That’s what I like about this team, we can hang our hat on a lot of different things,” Holst said. “Being able to play that hard and stingy on defense, we’re going to need it the next two games.”
But another two-point quarter, at this point, just won’t cut it.
“No, absolutely not,” Holst said.