EVANSVILLE, Wis. - If Evansville's girls basketball team can continue to get the balanced scoring it produced Thursday night, the Blue Devils will be hard to catch in the Rock Valley Conference.
As it stands, with a victory over visiting Clinton, they are now back in the league's driver's seat.
Junior guard Rachel Tofte scored a career-high 15 points, and four players scored at least eight in a 49-41 victory. Both teams entered the game tied atop the RVC standings with 6-1 records.
"The beauty of this team is that anybody can step up on the offensive or defensive end," Evansville first-year head coach Tony Wiemiller said. "Earlier in the year, we had four players in double figures. So we know when teams key in our key players-Paige (Banks) and Josey (Rinehart)-there's going to be opportunities for others to step up. And tonight they did."
Banks and Clinton senior Liz Kalk were locked in on each other the entire night, and at halftime the two RVC first-team selections had just six and two points, respectively.
But Evansville-coming off its first league loss of the year at Jefferson-built a double-digit lead. Rinehart, a 6-foot matchup problem for the Cougars, helped build that cushion by hitting all four of her shots in the first half. And Tofte had eight points by halftime, hitting two of four 3-pointers for an Evansville team not known for its outside shooting.
"This game was a season-changer for us," Tofte said. "The first thing everyone said after that (loss to Jefferson) was that it's all about how you bounce back. I think this showed how we're able to do that."
The Blue Devils outscored the Cougars 13-4 in the final six minutes of the half to lead 30-20 at the break.
Clinton certainly had its share of chances to draw close after halftime.
It cut the deficit to seven points in the early stages and then had three possessions to draw even closer but came up empty each time.
Olivia Roehl, who led Clinton with 14 points, made a layup with over six minutes left to cut Evansville's lead to six, 44-38.
Again the Cougars had three empty possessions.
Evansville then had a spurt where it missed four consecutive free throws, but Clinton twice failed to get a rebound.
"Overall, they played hard, didn't give up, played to the buzzer," Clinton head coach Kim Ciochon said of her team. "Defensively, I thought we did pretty decent. We did a decent job inside given our height disadvantage.
"I expected it to be a good battle, and it was. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end, but I'm proud of the girls and there are a lot of games left in the season."
The Cougars still managed to get within four points when they got a steal and layup from Hannah Welte with 1:18 remaining to make it 44-40.
They never got closer. And though the Blue Devils struggled from the line, they were able to put the game away and regain sole possession of first place.
Banks was 5 of 11 from the field for 13 points, and Abi Eftemoff gave the Blue Devils another threat and finished with nine.
Addyson Ciochon joined Roehl in double figures for Clinton with 10 points.
• UP NEXT: Evansville (8-4) closes out the first half of the Rock Valley season Tuesday night at Big Foot. Clinton (9-3) hosts Whitewater that same night.
EVANSVILLE 49, CLINTON 41
Clinton (41)-E. Teubert 3-1-7, Welte 2-0-4, Kalk 2-0-5, Ciochon 4-1-10, Roehl 7-0-14, Nortier 0-1-1. Totals: 18-3-41.
Evansville (49)-Hinkle 1-1-4, Rinehart 4-0-8, Tofte 4-5-15, Eftemoff 4-0-9, Banks 5-3-13. Totals: 18-9-49.
Clinton ....................................20 21-41
3-point goals-Clinton 2 (Kalk, Ciochon), Evansville 4 (Tofte 2, Hinkle, Eftemoff). Free throws missed-Clinton 4, Evansville 13. Total fouls-Clinton 20, Evansville 13. Fouled out-Welte.