NORMAL -- If nothing else, Harvest Christian's girls basketball team proved it belonged here among the elite Friday afternoon.
Battling from behind most of the day, the unranked Lions pushed No. 9 Annawan to the limit before the Bravettes were able to pull away in the end for a 51-42 win in the IHSA Class 1A semifinals at Redbird Arena.
"I thought we battled the entire game and I'm just so proud of these kids," said Harvest coach Rich DeTamble. "You can't coach toughness and my team showed its toughness today."
The Lions (29-4), playing in a state final tournament for the first time, will take on Hardin Calhoun (27-6) at 11 a.m. Saturday for third place. No. 5 Calhoun, the defending 1A champion, was upset by unranked Mendon Unity 42-34 in Friday's second semifinal.
Harvest Christian, which lost to Annawan by 41 points in last year's Fremd Chicagoland Challenge, never let the Bravettes (27-8) pull away Friday. The Lions held three early leads, trailed by 4 at halftime, and even though Annawan led by as many as 7 points midway through the third quarter and by 5 with 4:30 left to play, the Lions roared back each time.
Much of the late push came from junior guard Isamar Garcia. After missing two free throws and air balling a 3-point attempt with about a minute left in the third quarter, Garcia went on a personal 11-point run that not only gave the Lions a brief lead but ended when she nailed a 3-pointer with 4:18 to play, her third 3 of the run, and brought Harvest to within 39-37.
"I knew we had to push back and spark the offense," Garcia said. "I just had to motivate my team."
Twenty seconds after Garcia's 3, sophomore Gracie Ozburn drove the lane and scooped in a layup that tied the game at 39 with 3:56 left.
But Annawan, led by 6-foot-1 junior Jayde VanHyfte, outscored the Lions 12-3 the rest of the way to come away with the win.
"I thought when we tied it in the fourth quarter we had it, but we let it slip away," said Garcia.
VanHyfte, an Arizona State recruit, scored 8 of her game-high 29 points in the final 3 minutes. She also had 19 rebounds on the day, just two short of the Class 1A state tournament record, and was 11 of 11 from the free-throw line.
"That's what we're used to seeing from her," said Annawan coach Jason Burkiewicz. "She's an outstanding scorer, an outstanding rebounder, and her speed is unmatched."
The Lions did not appear to be intimidated by their first appearance under the bright lights of Redbird but their shooting wasn't what they had become accustomed to during a 24-game winning streak that got them to Redbird. Harvest was just 17 of 64 from the field (26 percent) and made only 4 of 29 from 3-point range. And while Annawan wasn't much better (31 percent on 17 of 55 from the field) the Bravettes did made 15 of 22 from the line compared to 4 of 9 for Harvest. Annawan also won the rebounding battle 51-39.
"We were down and came back, down and came back, down and came back," said DeTamble. "You have to tip your hat to Annawan. (VanHyfte) is a pretty good player. But I'll take the 24 wins in a row and go on to the third place game where we'll give it everything we've got.
"It's been a long time since I had to give a talk to this team after a loss but these kids have short memories and I guarantee we'll come out fired up (Saturday)."
Junior all-stater Alyssa Iverson led Harvest with 15 points and Garcia added 13.
"There were some emotions coming in here for the first time but everyone gave it all they had," Iverson said.