A bruised and battered Annie McKenna played her final game of her high school career the way she did all the others – at full throttle.
The Trinity High School senior came into Saturday night’s Class 4A third place game against rival Whitney Young sporting a black eye, bruises on her arm and a sprained ankle that had hobbled her for weeks.
Yet McKenna turned in a magnificent performance, teaming with longtime friend and fellow senior Kaitlin Aylward to lead the Blazers to a 63-47 rout of Young at Redbird Arena in Normal.
McKenna sank 9-of-11 shots, including 4-of-6 three-point attempts, en route to a game-high 25 points, while Aylward added 20 points and six rebounds as Trinity (30-6) capped a tumultuous season by tying the school record for wins while earning the first state trophy in program history.
“It’s the playoffs,” a grinning McKenna said when asked about her injuries. “It’s tough and you’re not going to get through it easily.
“It’s a fight and everyone is going to experience it getting this far. I wanted to come in playing hard and I wanted to end the season on a good note.”
The 5-foot-5 Dartmouth recruit did just that, scoring Trinity’s first basket on a three-pointer. It was a sign of things to come for the Blazers, who quickly rallied from an early 11-5 deficit thanks to the play of their only two seniors.
“When my first shot went in I knew I felt it,” McKenna said. “So I knew it was going to be a good night.”
Aylward, a 6-0 power forward, tallied 13 points in the first half, which ended with McKenna scoring on a drive to give Trinity a 32-24 halftime cushion.
McKenna opened and closed the third quarter with treys to boost the lead to 47-34 and the Dolphins (27-7) never seriously threatened after that.
“She’s beat up right now,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said of his point guard. “She’s never going to tell you that, but she’s definitely not 100 percent.”
A 68-51 semifinal loss on Friday to Benet, which beat Fremd 42-39 to win its second straight title, meant the Blazers did not achieve 100 percent of their goals, but Aylward, who fittingly scored her team’s final points on two free throws with 1:05 left, was pleased with how they bounced back by knocking off Young in the playoffs for the second straight year.
McKenna and Aylward, friends and teammates since second grade, scored Trinity’s final 12 points.
“Being the only seniors we tried to lead the team and make sure that our team is with us,” Aylward said. “We want to do as much as we can to win every game. Yeah, we want to be (in the title game) but leaving Redbird Arena with a win is amazing.”
Sophomore Alisa Fallon added nine points and eight rebounds and sophomore Dee Brown had four points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Blazers, who overcame internal dissension following the abrupt resignation of popular coach Eddie Stritzel on November 30 to reach the state semifinals for the first time.
“Everything that’s happened this year makes us the team we are today,” Valente said. “I know what these girls have been through and how hard they’ve worked and what they’ve overcome and how we’ve bonded as a family.
“I love this team. That’s all I wanted for this team was to end this season on a win.”
The Blazers did so in impressive fashion, holding the Dolphins to 26 percent shooting. McKenna, Brown, Fallon and sophomore Lauren Lee combined to hold Ohio State recruit Kiara Young to 18 points on 4-for-25 shooting. Isabelle Spingola paced Young with 20 points.
While McKenna and Aylward will graduate, Trinity figures to remain strong.
“We couldn’t ask for better seniors,” Fallon said. “We’ve had a year with such mental toughness and they’ve just taught us to be the epitome of mentally tough and we just hope that we can continue their legacy.”