Posted Online: Jan. 07, 2013, 10:19 pm

Bravettes shake Stark County to take sole possession of LTC lead

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By Terry Duckett, tduckett@qconline.com

ANNAWAN -- Celina VanHyfte still has strong memories of losing to Stark County in the Class 1A sectional semifinals nearly two years ago.

After the Lady Rebels raced out to a quick five-point lead against Annawan at the outset of Monday's Lincoln Trail Conference matchup between co-leaders, the 6-foot junior center did her part to ensure another such defeat would not be in the cards.

VanHyfte scored 14 first-quarter points, 23 in the first half, and ended with a game-high of 29 points to go with eight rebounds and two steals as the Bravettes gradually pulled away in the second half to earn a 57-37 victory, a 6-0 LTC mark and sole possession of first place.

"I know playing Stark County is always going to be a tough game,'' said VanHyfte. "I think everyone else might have slightly underestimated them; that's why I got on my teammates at the end of the first quarter and told them to box out and not give them any easy shots.''

After 3-pointers by Elizabeth Hippen and Shania Kraklow staked the Lady Rebels (13-6, 5-1 LTC) to a 9-4 lead, VanHyfte delivered a three-point play to break Stark County's 7-0 run and help settle down her team. She added another three-point play, then a bucket at the 1:21 mark that put Annawan (15-2) up 12-11, a lead it did not relinquish.

By the quarter's end, the Bravettes had reeled off a 10-2 run to go up 16-11. They kept applying the pressure, going up by as many as 14 before Stark County used a buzzer-beating putback by Madisyn Paxson to close the gap to 33-23 at halftime.The Rebels trailed 38-30 late in the third before Annawan went on an 11-0 run to take control of the game.

"I was the only one that was around (in 2011) when we lost to Stark County at sectionals,'' said VanHyfte. "I feel more relaxed playing them now than I did then. I know my teammates can pass me the ball and rely on me more; I'm fine with that kind of pressure.''

Also stepping up in the second period was younger sister and freshman guard Morgan VanHyfte, who scored six points to help fuel a 15-4 run that put the hosts up 31-17. The younger VanHyfte finished with 13 points, five boards and four steals.

"I was trying to play defense as hard as I can. That's my strong suit right now,'' she said. "Getting it into Celina, that was the main goal.''

While the VanHyfte sisters constituted the bulk of the scoring for Annawan, their teammates stepped up in other areas. Guards Paige Randall and Maddie Jackson had seven and five rebounds, respectively, and combined for seven steals. Megan Foes added four thefts.

Stark County never could regain the aggressive edge that helped it get the early jump on its rival at the top of the LTC standings. Paxson finished with 10 points and six rebounds and Ashley Phillips posted a team-best 11 points.

"You can't score 37 points and win too many games,'' said Stark County coach Scott Paxson. "We didn't react well; we didn't take care of the basketball or move it with more pass-fakes, and we didn't use the inside shot as much as I would've liked.''

For their part, the Bravettes are relieved to take one step closer to another regular-season LTC crown.

"This is probably our biggest game so far, next to St. Thomas More,'' said Celina VanHyfte. "I'm proud of the way our team played.''