BLOOMINGTON — Monday morning did not start out exactly the way Annawan girls' basketball coach Jason Burkiewicz had hoped.|
Junior standout Celina VanHyfte suffered a severe ankle sprain during the Bravettes' walk-through prior to leaving for their Class 1A Bloomington Super-Sectional showdown with Gilman Iroquois West, leaving her teammates to carry the load.
Starting in VanHyfte's stead, senior forward Alyssa Thompson calmed her team by scoring its first six points. Coupled with a breakout game from freshman guard Morgan VanHyfte, Annawan stated its case most eloquently with a 45-40 victory over the Raiders at Illinois Wesleyan University's Shirk Center.
"We talked to the girls and told them Celina's had us on her back for so long that it was time to have hers (Monday night)," said Burkiewicz. "Alyssa hit some big shots early on, which picked us up. We knew we had to have a lot of people step up. We thought this could be a defining moment for our program."
It also led to the 29-2 Bravettes first super-sectional trophy and a spot in Friday's 12:15 p.m. state semifinals at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena. Annawan plays Freeport Aquin (30-3), the state's top-ranked club and defending Class 1A champs.
Thompson gave the Bravettes an early jolt, scoring their first six points. A subsequent Megan Foes trey fueled a 7-0 run that put Annawan up 11-4, but Iroquois West settled down to close the gap to 17-13 on Elena Sanchez's 3-ball with 15 seconds left in the opening quarter.
"I was nervous, but I knew I had to step up," said Thompson, who hit three treys and finished with 12 points. "Once we calmed down, we got in the zone."
However, the Raiders found their feet in the second quarter, taking their first lead at 18-17 on a Courtney Conrad trey and an Andrea Fuoss bucket. Annawan responded with four quick points by Morgan VanHyfte to go up by three, and a Thompson trey made it a 24-20 game. The Bravettes maintained that edge before Taylor Cultra's three-point play with no time remaining cut their lead to 29-28 at halftime.
After Iroquois West (22-10) missed two early chances to retake the lead in the third quarter, the younger VanHyfte stepped up. Scoring a game-high 18 points, she helped the Bravettes work their way to a seven-point edge before the Raiders battled back to within 36-33 entering the final period.
Morgan VanHyfte then hit three straight free throws, followed by a bucket that gave Annawan a 43-37 lead after Iroquois West had gotten back to within one. The Raiders could get no closer than four points after that.
"I just had to try and play, just zone everything else out and play my regular game," said Morgan VanHyfte. "We were all for Celina, and we knew it was time for us to carry her. We all kept positive, and we found a way."
The older VanHyfte did play 11 minutes in the second half, adding five rebounds to the Bravettes' cause. More than anything, though, her presence seemed to signal that Annawan's time had finally come.
"This has been my goal since freshman year," Celina VanHyfte stated. "I finally did it, and with a bad ankle. I'm just so happy right now."