NORMAL – Annawan simply would not be denied.
Down by 10 points with three minutes, four seconds left in the third quarter, the Bravettes looked like their bid for a second IHSA Class 1A state title in four years was about to go by the wayside. But somehow they found the energy, the defense and some quality team play – enough to even overcome a late call that went against them -- for a 39-37 victory and a state title Saturday at Redbird Arena.
The score said 41-37 on the scoreboard after Jayde VanHyfte turned her own missed free throw into a left-handed layup. But it was waved off and she was whistled for traveling with 12 seconds left. Even though the scoreboard read 41-37, Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz said he knew traveling had been called and was urging his team to pick up immediately on the inbounds, which they did.
His counterpart Brad Begeman, the Mendon Unity coach, said there was plenty of confusion.
“People were talking about whether there was 12 seconds or eight seconds left,” Begeman said. “Then the (scoreboard) said they were up by four. And the basket didn’t even count. So that definitely affected our girls who didn’t really know what was going on.
“We wanted an open 3 look from (Kaylee) Kuhn or one of our other shooters, and that’s just the way it went.”
Firing from the corner near her bench, Kuhn — who scored 16 points — missed her lone 3-point attempt which went off the rim with one second left and the ball appropriately ended up in VanHyfte’s hands.
Whatever the score, the state title belongs to Annawan, which only led with 37 seconds left in the game after last leading 11-10 in the second quarter.
VanHyfte, a 6-foot-1 junior first-team all-stater, finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds and gave out about just as many hugs after the game to teammates, coaches and her family.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” beamed VanHyfte, who seemed to have trouble believing what had just happened, from the comeback from a knee injury a year ago to a 20-game season-ending winning streak and a state championship. “We just knew this was it. We had to keep pushing ourselves, pushing harder and we just stuck together.”
Annawan (28-8) trailed by six at half, 17-11, then by five, 34-29, with 5:54 left in the game when VanHyfte finished off her last of eight straight points in the quarter to tie it at 34-34 with 4:30 remaining. After a Katie Conry layup put the Mustangs (24-11) back up by two, VanHyfte tied it with two foul shots with 1:15 remaining.
Unity’s Kaylee Nichols made one of two at the line with 1:14 left but VanHyfte countered with a layup with 37 seconds left to give Annawan a 38-37 lead. After a timeout, Kuhn missed a jumper and Conry missed a jumper with the ball being tipped by Annawan’s Kayley Jackson to VanHyfte, who was fouled near half court with 12.8 seconds left. VanHyfte made the first and then was called for the traveling on the rebound of the second, setting up the confusing final seconds.
VanHyfte, who had all 12 of the Bravettes’ fourth-quarter points, agreed the team knew it was in trouble at half.
“We went in the locker room and coach sat us down and said, ‘Listen,this is it. We had to push hard,’” she said.
VanHyfte said she did not know her last bucket did not count until after the game. It would have iced the game with a four-point lead.
“I didn’t even know,” she said. “We just kept playing defense after that.”
Begeman called her a great player, “Probably the best post player we ran into all year.”
But VanHyfte had help, especially on Annawan’s second-half man-to-man defense, which seemed to take control and help it survive and come back in a game the Bravettes only made 12 of 24 foul shots and VanHyfte just nine of 14.
“Defense was key in winning this game,” VanHyfte said. “Our pressure was just very high in the end.”
Annawan’s next highest scorer was freshman Keagan Rico, whose five second-half points seemed to ignite the Bravettes.
“Keagan came in and … gave us great motivation,” VanHyfte said. “She’s a great freshman.”
“It’s just great to see things come together,” said Burkiewicz. “It’s just great to see how things came together from that 8-8 time (early this season) when we said we wanted to do this. We peaked at the right time. We played good ball all season and we brought it to another level in the postseason.”
“It’s just amazing,” VanHyfte added while also praising the Annawan fans for bringing the team motivation when they were down Saturday. “From what I have been through, from what my team has been through. This is just an awesome feeling, winning. I am so happy right now.”