Okawville’s historic 3-point barrage, led by junior guard Wyatt Krohne, was enough to claim the Rockets' first state championship in program history one year after being denied by Effingham St. Anthony.
The Rockets (27-8) set a Class 1A state finals record with an 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) shooting clip from 3-point range in a 59-48 win over Annawan (31-4).
“It’s probably the biggest day in history, to be honest, with how big of a sports town we are,” said junior Drew Riechmann, who joined the team this season after being the rocket man in the student section last year.
Krohne was 0 of 6 on his 3-point attempts in Friday’s state semifinal, when Okawville beat Goreville 48-33. He worked on his form during Saturday’s shootaround and got a vote of confidence from his coach.
It paid off as he set a Class 1A championship game record with five 3s. He scored a team-high 18 points.
“Today we had a shootaround, and yesterday I was really flicking it, but I was too short,” he said. “I worked on elbow and go with the flow, not thinking about it, confidence and legs and everything.”
Said Okawville coach Jon Kraus: “I kept telling him to shoot it with some arc and just play with confidence. (He’s) got to shoot the basketball, and that’s what he does. And he did. When he made that first one, I had a really good feeling.”
Early on, Luke Hensler was getting a post touch on each possession, but Annawan’s Ben Buresh was physical and forcing errant shots. Hensler was 2 of 5 with four points in the first quarter and finished with 11 points and two rebounds.
“They did good at trying to push me out of the lane as much as they could,” said Hensler. “They were contesting every shot, and (Buresh) seemed stronger than me, and he pushed me out, but I had to find ways to get my teammates to score and different ways to get buckets.”
Annawan switched into a 2-3 zone early, and that allowed them to play even with Okawville in the first half. But Buresh would wear down as the Rockets helped defensively to double team him and all-state wing Owen Landwehr on his drives. The duo still managed to score 32 points and grab 16 rebounds.
“Caleb (Frederking) did a nice job on him defensively, and they were physical and rebounded well, and they got after those loose balls, which is something we usually do well,” Annawan coach Alex Coppejans said.
The game was squared at 24 after the first 16 minutes, but Kraus thought his team could play better defense than they had.
“He told us it’s the biggest 16 minutes of our lives,” said Frederking. “We took that to heart, and we knew we needed to play defense to step it up, and that’s what we did.”
The defense won out for the Rockets.
Payten Harre scored his first five points of the game as part of a 10-1 push that gave Okawville a 34-25 lead with 4:13 left in the third quarter. Krohne scored the first three of his 12 points in the quarter to continue stretching the lead.
A Krohne and-one opportunity gave the Rockets a 43-30 lead going into the final eight minutes.
“We finally got in there and started guarding and got some rebounds, and then we got hot in that little stretch and gave us a little space,” Kraus said. “Once we got some space to play, it maybe forced them to do some things they didn’t want to do.”
Then the fourth quarter was all about rebounding and making free throws to close out the program’s first state championship. Harre answered the call by grabbing four rebounds and going 6 of 7 from the free-throw line in the final quarter.
“It’s huge because you could see they were starting to come back in the fourth by getting the second-chance points, and then coach Kraus was harping last night that whoever wins the rebounding battle would win the game, and as a senior in my last game as a Rocket, I had to go in there and get the rebounds,” Harre said.
Harre would finish with 14 points as one of three Rockets in double figures and six to score in the game.
“This has been the story of our team — three or four guys in double figures every night,” said Kraus. “We have no superstar, but we have five or six, or seven — 15 guys that really want it.”
Last year’s team featured a star in Noah Frederking — now playing college ball at Evansville — but still suffered a 49-46 loss to Effingham St. Anthony.
Said Harre: “Noah and Shane (Ganz), they carried the heavy load last year, obviously, and we missed them, so we had to come together as five, and that really helped us because we knew that all five people could shoot, rebound, defend — all the little things that make us a unit.”
But that’s not the only state championship Okawville is bringing home. The O-Zone, Okawville’s student section, won the Student Section Showdown for the second straight year.
“Being at every game, I think we’ve had a student section at almost every game except for one at Riverton, so it was fun to be at,” Riechmann, the former rocket man, said. “You don’t see that very often, and it just shows how much our town loves basketball.”