Evergreen Park senior Nolan Sexton drives past a Thornton defender during the Wildcats' 77-47 win over the Mustangs in the Class 3A Thornton Sectional on Feb. 27. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Evergreen Park senior Nolan Sexton drives past a Thornton defender during the Wildcats' 77-47 win over the Mustangs in the Class 3A Thornton Sectional on Feb. 27. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Boys Basketball Class 3A Sectionals | Evergreen Park’s historic ends with loss to Thornton

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By Xavier Sanchez
Correspondent

The 2023-2024 Evergreen Park boys basketball team had one of the greatest seasons in program history.

Unfortunately for the Mustangs, that season has come to an end with a 77-47 loss to Thornton in the semifinals of the Class 3A Thornton Sectional on Feb. 27.

Evergreen Park was coming off its first regional championship in 50 years after a win against Hillcrest last week. Playing in a sectional was new territory for this group of Mustangs, but they were prepared to take on the Wildcats.

“There might have been some nerves early, but we were definitely ready to battle,” Evergreen Park coach Jim Sexton said after the game.

After a tightly played first few minutes that saw the teams combine to make the first five shots of the game without a miss, Thornton began to extend its lead and the Mustangs never recovered. Ulises Cardenas hit a 3-pointer to pull the Mustangs within 9-7 early into the first quarter, but that would be the closest they would come the remainder of the game. Despite Evergreen Park limiting Thornton star Morez Johnson to just two first quarter points, the Wildcats closed out the first quarter with a 26-11 lead.

Johnson, an Illinois commit, finished with a game-high 21 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks.

EP rebound scaled

Evergreen Park senior forward Billy Buchanan (30) boxes out for a rebound during the Mustangs’ loss to Thornton on Feb. 27. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Evergreen Park senior forward Billy Buchanan was tasked with defending Johnson most the night.

“We knew we did not have anyone close to his size,” said Buchanan, who finished with 10 points. “I just tried to bump him out as much as possible and try to outshoot him. That was the main goal.”

Senior guard Tre Dowdell led the Mustangs with 13 points to go along with five rebounds, while Keshaun Vaval scored nine points and senior guard Nolan Sexton dropped eight.

“Obviously, we hoped for a lot better at this game,” Nolan Sexton said. “We thought we were going to win, but it does not take away [winning a regional championship].”

Buchanan agreed.

“It’s been a great season,” he said. “We did what we set out to do.”

Coach Sexton said the team’s goals were to win 20 games, win the South Suburban Red and win a regional. 

“We did not win the conference but we did get two out of three,” he added.

EP Vaval inside scaled

Evergreen Park’s Keshaun Vaval looks to score during the Mustangs’ loss to Thornton on Feb. 27. Photo by Xavier Sanchez

Many of the Mustangs have been playing basketball together since grammar school.

“We knew we could do it,” Buchanan said. “We just had to keep getting better. And to see it all come together is great.”

“Overall, it was exactly the season we wanted,” Nolan Sexton added. “The regional was our goal and we got it, and we had 20 wins also,” 

Jim Sexton began his tenure at Evergreen Park with the 2020-2021 season after previously coaching at St. Laurence. This Mustang team’s accomplishments and the impact it will have for the present and future is something he has been proud to witness.

“It is competing every single day on and off the court to get to play games like this,” Jim Sexton said. “That is what our seniors have really taught the younger guys. If we carry that through, we won’t just have a few years of success but sustain it.

“It’s a historic team. If it is not the best team in Evergreen Park history, it is one of the best.”

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