Annawan (29-3) battles Colfax Ridgeview (28-4) in super-sectional
Revenge was served Friday night in the Ottawa Marquette class 1A Sectional championship, as Annawan knocked off #1 Aurora Christian 63-54 in front of a standing room only crowd. The win came exactly one year and one day after Aurora Christian beat the Braves on a buzzer beating three pointer in the 2017 sectional semifinals.
“All of our guys and coaching staff were just kind of motivated by last years’ game,” said Annawan coach Alex Coppejans. “Then playing them down at State Farm and not having our best performance, we wanted to have the opportunity to play them again and give our best effort. That was pretty close to our best effort in terms of putting in a full four quarters. It was a culmination of last year and all of this year that led up to that moment. The guys worked extremely hard to get that win.”
The win gave the Braves their first sectional title in nine years and also leaves Annawan, ranked #4 in the final 1A poll, as the highest ranked team remaining in 1A, now that the top three teams have all lost.
“Honestly we never really talked about it, but we definitely thought about it,” Coppejans said of the revenge factor. “In talking to the guys after the game, it had been weighing on their minds pretty heavily. It’s something they felt like they could accomplish and they felt like they could beat them. They believed it 100 percent and our coaching staff believed it. Everybody was on the same page without saying it to one another.”
Like so many times during the season, it was the five seniors who came up big in Friday’s win. Ben Buresh piled in a game-high 26 points to lead the charge and the rest of the seniors – Owen Landwehr, Brendon Shaw, Jacob Wolf and Dante Weathersby – combined to score the rest of the Annawan points.
“It was their night and they knew that going in. Everybody had to elevate their play and whenever their number was called, they had to step up and all five guys did something,” said Coppejans, whose team has now tied last years team for the school record with 29 wins.
After an emotional and hard-fought win Friday, Coppejans and the Braves are guarding against any sort of lapse in focus or concentration.
“We addressed that and we talked about it at our shootaround yesterday (Sunday),” Coppejans said. “The first thing I told them is don’t get complacent. This isn’t where our journey ends. If anything, that game should give you the confidence and belief that you can beat anybody. But these kids are great and they focus on the task at hand. One of the first things they said Friday is that we went 1-0 that night and that’s our same message on Tuesday. Let’s be the team that’s ahead at the end of the fourth quarter. If anything, they’re more focused.”
The only thing standing between Annawan and a trip to Peoria’s Carver Arena is the Colfax Ridgeview Mustangs, which checked in at #7 in the final 1A poll.
Colfax Ridgeview High School is located about 25 miles east of Illinois State’s Redbird Arena in Normal, the site of Tuesday's contest. It’s been a frantic scramble for Coppejans and the coaching staff trying to find out as much about their opponent as possible.
“You try to pull out every contact you know, send emails out and try to gather as much information as you can,” he said. “It’s a true scramble mode situation. We haven’t seen them live, but we feel like we’ve got enough that we can get our guys prepared for Tuesday.”
Ridgeview won the Danville Schlarman Sectional with a 57-52 decision over St. Anne, led by 25 point efforts from seniors Justin Myers and Jacob Donaldson.
Myers, a 6–0 guard, leads the team in scoring at 21.8 points per game and shoots 54 percent from the floor. He also averages 7.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.9 steals. Donaldson, a 6–2 forward, averages 18.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest.
“They have two really good players and a good surrounding cast,” Coppejans said of Ridgeview. “It’s going to be crucial that we take care of those two guys.”
The Mustangs are coached by Rodney Kellar, who is now in his 29th year at the helm. He has a coaching record of 563-262 during his tenure, including nine regional crowns, five sectional titles and a third place finish at state. That third place finish came in 2015. Over the last four seasons, the Mustangs have won four regionals and three sectionals.
“Offensively they’re pretty similar to us. They spread the floor and attack the paint,” the fourth year Annawan coach said. “They really do a nice job of getting out in transitions. It’s going to be really important for us to slow them down and stop the ball early in transition and try to limit Myers in the open floor.”
Myers poured in a school-record 41 points in their sectional semifinal win over Decatur Lutheran. Myers attended Normal Community High School for his first three years of high school, before transferring to Ridgeview for his senior campaign.
“He attacks the rim quite a bit, with a lot of his points coming in transition and also getting to the free throw line and knocking them down,” Coppejans said of Meyers.
The Mustangs’ roster is thin on size, which could be favorable for the Braves. The two tallest players listed on their roster are a pair of 6–2 forwards, Donaldson and Tristen Campbell.
“We should have a size advantage. Athletically I think we should have a slight edge as well,” said Coppejans. “You would think that would help with rebounding and I think it will a little bit, but they rebound really well as a team, especially on the offensive boards.”
Annawan and Colfax Ridgeview have a pair of common opponents this season. At the State Farm Classic in Bloomington, the Braves beat Tri-Valley 58-36 and El-Paso Gridley 58-44, both members of the Mustangs’ Heart of Illinois Conference. Ridgeview beat Tri-Valley twice, 71-54 and 63-44, and split a pair of games with El-Paso Gridley, losing 57-37 and winning 67-56 in the latter matchup of the season.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at ISU’s Redbird Arena. The winner will play in Friday’s first state semifinal at 11:15 a.m. at Carver Arena against the winner from the DeKalb (NIU) Super-sectional, between Sterling Newman and Chicago Providence-St. Mel.