SERENA – The Indian Creek girls basketball team could have settled for the last shot.
But MaKayli Vann was open.
The Timberwolves’ sophomore guard hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds of a thrilling 42-39 win over Annawan on Thursday in the Class 1A Serena Sectional championship game in a packed gym.
With the score tied at 39, Vann received a pass on the right side from senior center Josie Diehl and knocked down the 3-pointer against Annawan’s zone defense with 18 seconds left.
“The game is tied and this is the first time in school history we’ve been here, so I had an opportunity so why not take the shot and take a risk?” Vann said with a smile.
It’s uncharted territory for the Timberwolves, who improved to 30-1 after playing in – and winning – their first sectional championship in school history. They advance to play Galena (27-2) in the Class 1A Oglesby Supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday at Illinois Valley Community College.
“We’ve never been to a sectional title (game), we got it,” Indian Creek coach Paul Muchmore said. “We’ve played a lot of big games in packed gyms this year. They know how to handle it.”
The win over Annawan (29-5) was the first victory this postseason for the Timberwolves decided by fewer than 18 points. They defeated Amboy, 48-30, in the Gardner South Wilmington Regional.
Vann finished with 13 of her team-high 15 points in the second half, helping the Timberwolves break the Bravettes’ tough zone defense that held Indian Creek to only three points in the second quarter. Senior guard Madison Russell provided nearly all the outside shooting for the Timberwolves, finishing with 14 points and connecting on four of the Timberwolves’ five 3-pointers.
“[Vann] isn’t intimidated by anything,” Muchmore said of her performance against the zone. “Sometimes it gets her into some trouble, but she’s super confident. They were trying to take away Josie, and I think Madison also did a great job – she hit some big 3s.”
Diehl scored seven points for the Timberwolves and came up with a key block that started a fast break that was capped by a layup from freshman Ma-
Kenzie Vann to give Indian Creek a 39-37 lead with less than a minute remaining. Diehl also shot Indian Creek’s only free throw attempt of the game – making it to cap a three-point play early in the fourth quarter.
Annawan got a game-high 18 points from senior guard Kayla DeMay, and senior guard Morgan VanHyfte was held to nine.
Things looked grim for the Timberwolves’ dream season in the second quarter, in which they went 71/2 minutes without a point before a 3-pointer by Russell ended the drought and cut Annawan’s lead to 15-13 heading into halftime.
The Bravettes pushed the lead to 22-15 midway through the third quarter before MaKayli Vann took over.
After a 3-pointer by Russell, Vann made an outstanding pass that led to a layup by senior Alexis Van Wyhe. Vann followed that with a pull-up jumper on a fast break to tie it at 22 and a layup off an in-bounds play to give the Timberwolves the lead.
Vann had another layup to put the Timberwolves ahead 35-29 with 4:37 – their largest lead of the game.
However, the Bravettes answered with a 7-2 run to tie it at 37 with 3:03 remaining, before the Vann sisters came up with their two baskets – MaKenzie’s layup and MaKayli’s 3-pointer.
Annawan had two chances to tie it with a 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds, but both missed – setting off an eruption of cheers from the Indian Creek team and crowd as the final buzzer sounded.
“We just played our defense and didn’t foul and didn’t let [VanHyfte] beat us,” Muchmore said. “Defense is what we do. It’s been there all year long.”