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Bravettes go back-to-back

Annawan junior Celina VanHyfte gathers the ball in Thursday’s sectional finals at IVCC. She scored 21 points to lead the Bravettes to a 64-44 win.
Annawan junior Celina VanHyfte gathers the ball in Thursday’s sectional finals at IVCC. She scored 21 points to lead the Bravettes to a 64-44 win.

OGLESBY — Annawan won their first sectional championship in 34 years in 2012. It took only one year for the Bravettes to get their next.

The No. 2-ranked Bravettes outlasted a determined Hinckley-Big Rock team 64-44 to claim the Oglesby 2A Sectional on the campus of IVCC in front of a large AHS following.

“We hadn’t won a sectional in 34 years. To do it back-to-back is special,” said second-year Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz, a 1999 Hall High School graduate.

Junior All-State center Celina VanHyfte led the Bravettes with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Classmate Megan Foes chipped in 13 points, 11 coming in a pivotal third-quarter stretch when Annawan opened up a 49-29 lead, its biggest lead of the night.

The Bravettes (28-2) advanced to the Bloomington Supersectional to face Gilman Iroquois West, a 46-35 winner over LeRoy. It was LeRoy that ended the Bravettes’ run in the supersectionals a year ago.

Burkiewicz said he would have welcomed a rematch with LeRoy, “but we have a common opponent with Iroquois West in St. Thomas More, and St. Thomas More beat them 84-30, so maybe that will give our girls a little bit of confidence.”

While the Royals (18-13) would seemingly never go away, rallying within eight (34-26) at halftime after trailing by 15 and pulling within nine after being down 20 in the third quarter, in the end it was the Bravettes’ defense that wore them down. In particular, Annawan’s 2-2-1 full court press and vaunted 1-3-1 zone defense.

All told, Annawan forced 39 turnovers.

“We count on it,” Burkiewicz said. “Before I took over this program, I wasn’t a zone person. That’s all we do now. Teams work all season long on an offense, and you can’t run an offense against it. You have to try to beat pressure and score. We’re going to try to get in the passing lanes and make it difficult to score.”

But the Bravettes’ work is not finished yet. They believe they did not play their best Thursday.

“We struggled in a lot of aspects of the game tonight. We have to play much cleaner,” Burkiewicz. “I think the girls got a wake-up call. It was a little bit chippy there for a while. We knew we weren’t executing very well. But we stayed together and kept battling and knew we had to come away with a victory.”

“It feels great, but we need to keep working hard in practice and get ready for the next game. We got to get rid of this game in our heads because we know it really wasn’t that good. We know we’ve got a lot to improve,” said Foes, a junior guard from Mineral.

HBR, made its sixth sectionals final appearance in seven years, a run including back-to-back state championships. The Royals lost to Annawan in last year’s sectional semifinals.

• Notes: Junior Cierra Davis, a transfer from Rock Island Alleman and regarded as one of the top players in the Western Big Six, made her debut for the Bravettes since recovering from a knee injury. She scored five points and will be looked to make a bigger impact as the Bravettes push for a state championship. “I thought it was important to get her some minutes. She told me everything felt like it was going 1,000 miles per hour and her heart was pounding through her chest, but we knew this was the time,” Burkiewicz said .... The Annawan coach said the Bravettes will look to break their jinx at Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center, where they lost last year’s supersectional as well as three straight games in the State Farm Classic. Burkiewicz joked he’s even lost two games in baseball at IWU .... Former Ohio coach John Mason, now the freshman boys coach for HBR, was in attendance ... IVCC cagers C.J. Rhodes and Michael Murray of Princeton were working for the host school Thursday.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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