NORMAL – The moment these Eastland Cougars had dreamed about their entire lives was finally here.
That dream quickly turned into a nightmare ... and the Cougars just couldn't wake up.
Annawan's full-court press blitzed Eastland from the tip-off, forcing a Class 1A-record 47 turnovers in a 71-45 victory.
"Obviously it's disappointing, because we didn't come out and play the way Eastland is used to," Cougars coach Colleen Finn-Henze said. "But you have to give Annawan's defense a lot of credit. They came at us from everywhere, and we just couldn't get out from under what turned out to be a snowball effect."
Eastland (28-6) had six turnovers before it got the ball across halfcourt, sparking a rousing cheer from its student section when it finally got into the frontcourt. Courtney Walker turned a Hannah Hake pass into a basket on that possession.
But the Cougars managed just 13 shot attempts in the first half, and turned the ball over 31 times thanks in part to 23 Annawan steals.
The IHSA record for turnovers in a Class 1A game, since the four-class system began, was 26.
"We wanted to make it a race out of the gates, to try and make it our game first," Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz said. "I thought the girls came out nice and relaxed, and really played the way I hoped they would."
It was a world of difference from a year ago, when the Bravettes (29-4) got off to a very slow start in a semifinal loss.
Burkiewicz thought it took his team 4 or 5 minutes before it scored its first basket last year. This time around, Annawan did it to its opponent; Eastland managed just 2 points in the game's first 7:30.
"Our defense was amazing," senior all-state center Celina VanHyfte said. "We've never played that well before."
Annawan finished with 35 steals on those 47 turnovers, and scored 44 points off of them.
"Their double-team sucked us in so fast, the we couldn't see up the court to see if anybody was open," senior guard Courtney Walker said. "When we picked up the ball to pass, they sucked in even more and left us no room to do anything."
While forwards Hannah Hake and Lexis Macomber watched in vain, the ball rarely found its way to them in the front court. But the two didn't blame their guards one bit; instead, they gave props to the Bravettes' length and athleticism.
"We were wide open, but it was just so difficult for the guards to find us," Hake said. "When they came at us with their trap, in the full-court or half-court, we couldn't get away from it."
A dejected Eastland team hit the locker room for halftime, more shell-shocked than anything else. But showing their courage and want-to, the Cougars weren't about to let the situation dictate their style of play.
"The ball game was decided in the first half," Finn-Henze said. "I won't say I expected us to come all the way back, but I thought we'd cut into their lead if we kept fighting."