One of the top-ranked Class 1A girls basketball team in the state all season, the Lebanon Greyhounds will face their toughest test of the season this week — at the most competitive sectional tournament in the state.
Fresh off a regional title, the Greyhounds will travel north Tuesday to face the defending Class 1A state champion — Hardin Calhoun — in the Hardin-Calhoun Girls Sectional Basketball Tournament. The game is a rematch of the sectional semifinal played a year ago and won by Hardin-Calhoun 66-31 at North Greene High School.
But when the two meet Tuesday, the roles will be reversed. This time, the game will pit a still young but more experienced Lebanon team (28-1) which will be the favorite when it takes on Hardin-Calhoun (23-5), which has the advantage of playing on its home court.
“If we’re fortunate enough to get there, I hope we have a big following of our fans go up for the game. You know Hardin will have a big crowd,” Lebanon coach Chad Cruthis said earlier this year. “We’ve had a great fan following all year, I’m sure we will for this one as well.”
Okawville (22-6) will take on Winchester (West Central) 25-3 in the other semifinal which is being played Monday at Hardin-Calhoun. The two semifinal winners will meet for the sectional title at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The Hardin-Calhoun Sectional features four teams which area currently ranked in the top 10 in the state Class 1A poll.
Hardin-Calhoun is led by senior Grace Baalman. The 6-1 University of Kentucky softball recruit averages just under 17 points and 12 rebounds per game and is a force underneath the hoop according to Cruthis.
“She’s a great athlete to start with,” Cruthis said of Baalman. “She holds and keeps the basketball high above her head. They (Hardin) lost a lot from last year, but they’ve come along and will be a real test for us.
“I have a lot of confidence in these girls. They have been able to raise their game when they have needed to this year.”
Junior Kendra Bass leads Lebanon in scoring at 17 points per game while, sophomore Emily Reinneck averages 13.2 points per game.
Okawville also faces a major challenge in stopping Winchester all-state sophomore Annika Kaufmann. The daughter of former University of Illinois great Andy Kaufmann, the 5-foot-10 Annika Kaufmann leads a balanced Winchester attack according to Okawville coach Michelle Hasheider-Burianek.
“They have a bunch of kids who can shoot the 3 and have a girl who plays strong and well in the post. One problem they present is covering all their shooters,” Hasheider-Burianek said. “We have to come to play and play well. Kaufmann understands the game and can do a lot to hurt you. We must contain her penetration and get a hand in her face.”
Also a young team, Okawville is led by juniors Madison Hackstadt (15.3 ppg), Casean Tebbe (8.1) and Madelyn Tepe (8.0).
Class 2A Johnston City Sectional
Mater Dei girls basketball coach David Kohnen admits he has never been to Johnston City. A member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Kohnen hopes to make a couple of trips this week.
Trip number one will come when the Knights (18-10) take on Sesser-Valier (26-1) in a Class 2A sectional semi-final at Johnson City High School beginning at 7 p.m. Monday.
The Knights, behind the play of senior Logan Braundmeier defeated Althoff 60-40 to win the Althoff Regional. The convincing win was the Knights’ third in a row.
“The last two weeks, I’ve really noticed a difference in our concentration and focus. The girls realize that this is it and have picked their games up to another level,” Kohnen said. “Our team balance has been very good all year. Each night, its been somebody different who has picked us up.”
Senior Kelsey Gerdes leads Mater Dei in scoring at 11.4 points per game, while four others average over seven each game.
“I know they (Sesser-Valier) are 26-1 and so obviously they are a good squad,” Kohnen said. “I know they have a good point guard and they have a good player in the middle and that together they have combined for over 1,800 points in their careers. They are quick and they like to get up and down the court.”
In the other semifinal, Nashville (23-6) will take on Harrisburg (22-8) at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Hornettes defeated Greenville 42-40 to win the Sparta Regional on Thursday.
“We played alright. Not great. But at this time of year, you just want to advance and we did that,” Nashville coach Doug Althoff said. “We have to clean some things up, but nothing major. We just need to be ready.
“Overall, I think this is a very even sectional with four pretty equal teams.”
The two semi-final winners will meet in the sectional title game at 7 p.m. Thursday.