EVART — The Evart Wildcats boys basketball team needed a late basket from an unlikely hero to take care of the Montabella Mustangs on Monday night, and they got it.

Chris Garner, who didn’t play basketball last year, was fouled as he put back an errant shot with under three seconds to play to give his Wildcats a one-point lead. His made and-one free throw made the lead two points and gave Evart a 52-50 victory.

“We’ve been kind of waiting for Chris to blossom,” Evart coach Kris Morgan said. “He didn’t play last year and he’s improving every game. I tell him he’s at the tip of his potential. He played well at the start, kind of vanished, and played well at the end.”

Garner got things going right out of the gate for an Evart team that only had eight of its usual 12 players dressed. The Mustangs had a three-man bench as well, and everyone not named Chris Garner struggled to find the basket in the first quarter. The Wildcats found Garner, who wasn’t just the tallest player on the court but the tallest person in the gym, and fed him hearty helpings down low. Jared Pattee and Nolan VanOrder found Garner time after time and by the end of the first quarter the Wildcats had a 13-4 lead over the Mustangs.

Garner scored all 13 Evart points.

“I’m kind of new this year,” Garner said. “I came out and I was kind of tired...I didn’t think I was going to play a good game at all.”

Garner, who isn’t used to that much playing time, took a long break to start the second quarter. VanOrder scored the first non-Garner points for the Wildcats to push the lead to 11. Montabella’s Brady Burggren knocked down a free throw with 6:15 to play in the second to give the Mustangs their first points since halfway through the first quarter. Burggren kept rolling with a 3-pointer to make it 16-8. Chase Murray followed with a layup for the Mustangs to make the deficit six points with just over three to play in the half.

Burggren and Murray hit back-to-back triples for Montabella, followed by another Murray layup to tie things up at 18 apiece. Pattee scored to give the Wildcats a slight edge, but the Mustangs got back-to-back baskets and two free throws to take a 24-20 lead into halftime.

After being outscored 13-4 in the first quarter the Mustangs outdid the Wildcats 20-7 in the second.

Jacob Fortune started the second half with a bucket for the Wildcats as Garner struggled to get his offense going again. Burggren hit another triple which the Wildcats would answer with a single free throw from Garner, his first point since the first quarter. Murray got another Mustang layup to fall, but Evart was finding its rhythm. Good ball movement led to consecutive open looks for Garner on the block, bringing the game to a 29-29 tie with 2:50 left in the third.

Murray and Andrew Gilman got Montabella baskets to end the quarter at 35-32 in favor of the Mustangs.

“Our defensive intensity was big when we were down five,” Morgan said. “We got some quick steals and some shots down low. I think that really turned things around.”

Burggren started things out in the fourth with an and-one bucket and free throw. VanOrder hit back-to-back jumpers to push the momentum back towards Evart. On the next trip down, VanOrder swished a three as Gilman was called for a technical foul. They gave Evart the bucket, plus two free throws and possession. Garner hit both free throws to take a 41-40 lead with under six to play.

Both offenses stalled down the stretch until a Garner turn-around jumper went down to push the Evart lead to five. Both squads went back and forth until Murray completed an old-fashioned three-point play with 9.5 seconds left in the game to give the Mustangs a 50-49 lead. Coach Morgan called a Wildcat timeout to set up a final play.

VanOrder brought it down the sideline and put up a floater on the baseline which went off the rim into the hands of Garner. Garner put it back up and in with 2.2 seconds left and was fouled. He made the free throw and sealed a 52-50 non-conference win for Evart.

“(When I went for the last shot) I was just so pumped,” Morgan said. “I tried to stay calm so I could make the last free throw. It was nerve-racking but it was a lot of fun.”

“Overall, I’m a little disappointed,” Morgan said. “We had a good first quarter and then we kind of coasted in the second quarter, we just couldn’t ever get that momentum back. We finally started a game well...and then we let (Montabella) hang around. It was a good non-conference win. Overall, a win is a win.”

Garner led the Wildcats with 25 points as VanOrder added 15 of his own.

The Wildcats are home against McBain on Thursday.