NORMAL, Ill. — All season, the main objective of the Annawan boys' basketball team was to go 1-0 in every game it played. That focus gained extra emphasis once the postseason began.
For the fifth time in the past two weeks, the Braves went 1-0 again. Taking on seventh-ranked Colfax Ridgeview at the Class 1A Normal Super-Sectional, fourth-ranked Annawan earned itself the chance to do that two more times, closing strong for a 39-32 victory Tuesday night at Redbird Arena.
"Our only focus tonight was going 1-0," said senior forward Ben Buresh. "It's been our mindset for every game all season, but we've emphasized it more in the postseason. If you don't go 1-0, it's all over. We've done a great job of staying focused on the task at hand, and we did just enough to get this win.''
By going 1-0 for a program-record 30th time in 33 games this season, the Braves now advance to the 1A state semifinals for the first time in nine years, when head coach Alex Coppejans was a senior. Annawan takes on sixth-rated Sterling Newman (28-4) Friday at 11:15 a.m. in the first semifinal game at Peoria's Carver Arena.
"This is for these guys," said Coppejans. "They've worked so hard the last several years, and they deserve this opportunity. I'm so happy for them."
After a back-and-forth first quarter in which Ridgeview (28-5) took a one-point lead on a Levi Zimmerman bucket in the closing seconds, the Mustangs galloped out of the blocks to begin the second period, scoring the first six points to take what would be their biggest lead of the night at 18-11.
But after a Brendon Shaw 3-pointer ended an 0-for-5 Annawan dry spell just past the midway point of the quarter, the Braves edged closer on a Julian Samuels trey with 1:27 on the clock, cutting Ridgeview's lead to 20-17 at halftime. Buresh then came through with back-to-back buckets to open the third quarter, putting Annawan up by one.
"We started getting some stops in the third quarter, and then started getting some buckets," said Buresh, who finished with eight points and 11 rebounds. "That got us going."
But after Ridgeview's Jacob Donaldson scored with four seconds on the clock to cut a four-point Annawan lead to 27-25 entering the fourth, the Mustangs got back-to-back buckets from Justin Myers to go up 29-27 early in the period. Yet again, Annawan found a way to respond.
First, Shaw scored to tie the game with 5:26 remaining. Next, fellow senior Dante Weathersby drew a foul with 3:51 left and hit one of his free throws to put the Braves up 30-29. Those plays sparked a 10-0 Annawan run that put it in control at 37-29 with just under 42 seconds left.
"There was no way we were letting go of that lead," said Weathersby, who matched Shaw with five points and added three steals. "We were getting so much energy from our crowd, we knew it was game over from there."
Of his tying bucket, Shaw said, "We knew they'd come out in a 1-2-2 zone, and we had our offense set up for that. We tried to keep on the attack and look for the open man. We were moving the ball around a lot better. That was the key."
Defensively, Annawan held Ridgeview's top scorer, senior guard Justin Myers, to just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting. Second-leading scorer Jacob Donaldson had a game-high 13 points, but the Mustangs were just 13 of 34 (38.2 percent) from the field and 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
"We knew they could knock down the open 3s," said Coppejans, whose club was led by Owen Landwehr's 10 points, "but we were more concerned with guarding the paint. Our guys did a nice job of rotating and clearing out."
Now, the chance to go 1-0 two more times awaits the Braves as they make the program's long-awaited return to the state court.
"We've worked so hard for this, and now it's finally here," said Landwehr. "We're finally here."