After collecting 27 wins and both a Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division and Class A regional title, the New Athens Yellow Jackets came up short on Thursday in the title game of the Okawville Girls Basketball Sectional — well short.
Second-ranked Hardin Calhoun got a combined 42 points and 32 rebounds from sisters Emma Baalman and Grace Baalman and romped to an easy 62-34 win before a large turnout at Okawville High School.
With 6-foot-1 junior Emma Baalman and 6-2 sophomore Grace Baalman scoring at will in the post area, the Warriors jumped out to a 19-10 lead after one quarter and never trailed after that as they move into the Class 1A Salem Super-Sectional on Monday. But after the final buzzer sounded on Thursday, Hardin Calhoun celebrated like a team on a mission with still work to be done.
“I keep telling people that we’re looking at one game at a time. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. This group is very focused,’’ Warriors coach Aaron Baalman said. “I thought we came out and played very well early and we got the ball where it needed to go.’’
The win lifts Hardin Calhoun (29-2) into a 7 p.m. super-sectional game against Steeleville on Monday at Salem High School. Steeleville rallied late to defeat Cairo 61-58 on Thursday in the Gallatin County Sectional.
Hardin Calhoun wasted little time in exercising its dominance inside. With what Aaron Baalman referred to as “double trouble” doing what it what it wanted and twice getting four offensive rebounds on single posessions, New Athens coach Erik Hager had no answers either on the defensive end of the court or on the backboards.
“We had a game plan and we worked in practice on what we would see, but you can’t simulate very well against that kind of size, speed and athleticism. Hardin Calhoun is a very good basketball team and obviously we couldn’t match up with them,’’ Hager said. “Then when they come out and start to hit 3-pointers the way they did to start the second half, we just couldn’t stay with them.’’
The Yellow Jackets did have one mini scoring run midway through the second quarter. Trailing 21-10, New Athens senior Anisa Al-Bori hit a jumper and seconds later leading scorer Denae White also scored to get their team to within 21-15.
New Athens had a chance to cut further into its deficit, but turned the ball over on its next possession. Back-to-back baskets by Grace Baalman sthen got the Warriors back on track as they outscored the Yellow Jackets 11-3 over the final three minutes of the second quarter which ended with Hardin Calhoun leading 32-18.
Still with at least a little hope of a comeback when the third quarter began, the Yellow Jackets felt the full offensive arsenol of the Warriors early in the second half. Warriors’ senior Courtney Holland began a 26-9 Hardin Calhoun advantage with a pair of 3-point field goals and six players scored in all as the lead grew to 58-27.
“We talked about the need for someone to step up and make a couple of 3-point shots for us and Courtney stepped up,’’ Aaron Baalman said. “We got the inside-outside game going pretty good there in the third quarter.’’
Emma Baalman led the Warriors with 28 points, while White paced New Athens (27-2) with 12 points.
Despite the lopsided loss, Hager was proud of his team.
“Of course you always want the season to last a little longer, but we just got beat by a better team tonight,’’ Hager said. “Looking back, I’m proud of this basketball team and these girls. We won 27 games, we won a conference title and we won a regional championship and got the championship game of the sectional. Those are pretty good accomplishments.’’
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.