On its first possession on Tuesday, Hardin Calhoun junior Grace Baalman used her size and reach to go over Lebanon senior Mallory Schmitt to score on an offensive rebound. On the Warriors next possession, Emma Baalman did the same.
And so the tone of Class 1A (White Hall) North Greene Girls Sectional semifinal was set early.
Emma Baalman scored 25 points and combined with cousin Grace Baalman to dominate on the backboards as Hardin-Calhoun moved into the title game with an easy 66-31 win over an athletic Lebanon squad before a large crowd at North Greene High School.
The Class 1A State Tournament runner-up a year ago, the Lady Warriors (28-2) used eight first quarter points from the 6-1 Emma Baalman to take a 15-6 lead after one quarter before unleashing its full arsenal of offensive weapons in the second period.
With Emma Baalman continuing to dominate in the post and seniors Courtney Holland and Madison Lehr combining for three 3-point baskets, the Lady Warriors broke the game open with a 22-8 edge and built a 37-15 lead at halftime.
Lebanon, which ends its season at 25-4, would get no closer the rest of the way.
“Lebanon is a very quick and athletic team and they are going to be a real force in the next couple of years because several of their top players are sophomores. But tonight we were able to get on top early. One of the things this team does very well is that we share the basketball.” Lady Warriors coach Aaron Baalman said.
“Obviously we want to get the ball inside to Grace and Emma and we did that tonight. But our kids are also smart enough to know who has the hot hand. In the second quarter, we did that and our shooters hit three 3-point shots to help us extend the lead.”
The win moves Hardin-Calhoun into the sectional title game at 7 p.m. on Thursday where it will take on West Central. The Cougars defeated (Centralia) Christ our Rock Lutheran 35-31 in the other sectional semifinal on Monday.
The Lady Warriors win also marks the second straight season they have ended the season of a Cahokia Conference power. Hardin-Calhoun defeated New Athens in the title game of Okawville Sectional a year ago.
Lebanon, which captured its fourth straight Class 1A regional title on Friday by beating Cahokia Conference rival New Athens, got 14 points from sophomore guard Kendra Bass. The 5-5 Bass, who combined with sister Krista to form one of the top guard duos in the metro-east, scored in the opening seconds of the second quarter to cut Lebanon’s deficit to 15-8.
But with Emma Baalman and Lehr combining for 15 second quarter points to lead the way, Hardin Calhoun put the game away with its big second quarter outburst.
“There is a reason why they (Hardin-Calhoun) played for the state championship a year ago. And there is a reason why they could be back there again this year. It’s a very good basketball team,” Lebanon coach Chad Cruthis said.
“They are big, strong and athletic up front with the Baalman’s. But their role players are also very good.’’
After Kendra Bass cut the Greyhounds deficit to 15-8, Grace Baalman scored on a short jumper and Emma Baalman followed with an offensive putback as the lead expanded to double figures for the second time in the game.
Lebanon’s Emily Reinneck followed with a pair of free throws, but when Lehr made back-to-back 3-point shots and Emma Baalman added another short jumper and a pair of free throws, the Lady Warriors had a 27-11 lead.
Lebanon kept plugging away but on this night they were no match for the fifth-ranked Class 1A team in the state.
“I thought we would come up here and give it our best effort,’’ Cruthis said. “I told the grils after the game that I was proud of them for doing that.’’