ANNAWAN – The Amboy girls basketball team was eager to play for the regional championship, even if it was 2 days late.
After inclement weather postponed the Class 1A Annawan Regional title game from Thursday to Saturday, the Clippers came out firing on all cylinders in a 57-38 victory.
Amboy (25-2) built a 9-0 lead just 3 minutes into the game, and it grew to 14-4 less than 2 minutes later. The host Bravettes (18-10) never got closer than four points the rest of the way, as the Clippers won their first regional crown since a three-peat from 2014-16.
“It feels good to finally win one again,” sophomore Abi Payne said. “After 3 years, it feels good to have one back in our school.”
Balance was the name of the game for Amboy. All five starters scored at least eight points and grabbed at least six rebounds, and the starting quintet combined for 53 points, 37 rebounds, 15 assists, eight steals and three blocked shots.
The Clippers controlled both ends of the court.
On offense, Payne and Mallory Powers took turns driving into the middle of the Annawan defense and either kicking out a pass to the perimeter for an open jumper or dropping off a pass to Breanna Fisher or Kyleigh Donna on the blocks.
“Our offense was really good,” said Powers, who finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. “We really worked it back and forth on the perimeter and got open shots, and we drove in and got our posts some easy shots, and that allowed us to spread it out. Our posts worked very hard offensively and defensively.”
In that opening barrage, four different Clippers scored, with four buckets inside and a pair of 3-pointers. Noelle Jones’ 3 made it 14-4 with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
“I think today we did a really good job of moving the ball around,” said Fisher, who had a double-double (12 points,13 rebounds) to go with two assists, two steals and a block. “We just knew we had to get it going, get our open shots.”
“Getting that early lead was really big,” Powers added, “because then we could keep building our momentum, work our defense more and be patient on offense to get easier shots.”
Powers’ free throw with 1:03 left in the first put all five Amboy starters in the scoring column, and made it 15-4 less than 7 minutes in.
Annawan fought back with a 9-2 run capped by Fayth Park’s 3-pointer, but Powers started a 9-3 run with a 3-pointer and ended it with a jumper for a 26-16 lead. The Bravettes cut their deficit to 28-23 with 2:06 left in the firat half, then after a Payne runout layup and another Powers 3, Annawan scored the final five points of the half to get within 33-28 at the break.
But Amboy reestablished order right away out of the locker room. Jones scored in the paint off a pretty pass from Fisher, then nailed a 3 off a Powers drive-and-kick. Annawan got within seven twice, then trailed 44-38 with 1:28 left in the third period, but it was all Clippers after that.
“It looked like every time we’d make a run and get back into it, it took so much out of us that we couldn’t continue it,” Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz said. “Just like all year, the inconsistency of it all … we had to come out and execute very well against a team like that, and we made some costly mistakes at bad times once we got tired.
“And Amboy played a great game, too. They shot the ball well, they moved to the basketball well, and they earned it today.”
The Clippers held Annawan scoreless over the final 9:28, and it was thanks largely to a suffocating zone defense that limited open looks on the perimeter and packed it in against the Bravettes’ post players.
“We knew we couldn’t let their posts get going, because they had two really good girls that could rebound and play inside really well,” Payne said. “So we had to take away the perimeter shots, and make it hard for them to get the ball inside.”
Amboy also scoured the glass, out-rebounding Annawan 21-11 in the second half and 43-30 for the game. The Clippers turned 17 offensive rebounds into 10 points.
“Our coach warned us about how they’re a good rebounding team, so we were all prepared to go after the rebounds,” Fisher said. “We just had to keep pushing through, and we had to work hard to get the rebounds and take away some of their post play on offensive rebounds.”
Amboy shot 44.4 percent (24-for-54) from the field, and had four players reach double figures. Payne finished with 10 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals, Donna added 10 points, six boards and two blocks, and Jones chipped in eight points and six rebounds.
“It’s amazing when we all can score,” Payne said, “and it just felt really good to drive into their defense and score.”
Park, Keagan Rico and Emily Miller each scored eight points for Annawan, with Miller grabbing five rebounds. Reese Randall finished with seven points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Kaley Peterson chipped in five points and four rebounds. The loss snapped a run of nine straight regional titls for the Bravettes, who won state championships in 2014 and 2017.
“We kept control; they had a couple of runs on us, but we withstood it and built the lead back up every time,” Amboy coach Mike McCracken said. “We did everything we ask of them on defense, and we played it almost perfectly the way we’d planned, and then we busted their different defenses by hitting baskets, driving the ball to the hole, and rebounding hard.”
1A Annawan Regional final
Amboy 57, Annawan 38
Star of the game: Breanna Fisher, Amboy, 12 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Key performers: Mallory Powers, Amboy. 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists; Abi Payne, Amboy, 10 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals; Kyleigh Donna, Amboy, 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks; Noelle Jones, Amboy, 8 points, 6 rebounds; Reese Randall, Annawan, 7 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Up next: 1A Ottawa Marquette Sectional semifinal, Amboy vs. Aurora Christian, 7:30 p.m. today