SALEM — The defending Class 1A state champion Hardin-Calhoun Warriors were just too much for Goreville to handle.

The Warriors’ dynamic duo of Grace Baalman and Junie Zirkelbach combined for 53 points as Hardin-Calhoun rolled to a 70-41 win over the Lady Blackcats. Goreville finished the season 19-9.

Goreville entered the game intent on stopping the 6-foot-2 Baalman, who is headed to Kentucky on a softball scholarship. The Lady Blackcats double-teamed the Hardin-Calhoun center early, making it almost impossible for her to catch the ball.

But, that left Jordan Holland and Junie Zirkelbach open time after time. Holland and Zirkelbach combined for 14 of Hardin-Calhoun’s 17 first quarter points. The Warriors built a 17-5 lead after one quarter.

“That’s what normally happens,” said coach Aaron Baalman. “Teams try to focus too much on Grace and Zirkelbach and Holland are very capable of putting up big numbers.”

The double-team was the poison that Goreville coach Mike Helton picked.

“Everybody talks about you have to double-team her,” he said. “We did that for a little bit, and those other kids made shots, so we had to do something else. Every time we’d almost force a turnover, we’d end up with somebody open or they’d stick a shot. You can’t fault our effort. They’re just very solid.”

Throughout the game, the Warriors were adept at finding an open person under the bucket whenever Goreville trapped.

“We do a good job of moving the ball,” Baalman said. “Everybody understands their role on this team. We graduated six out of seven players from last year’s state championship team. A lot of people didn’t predict us to be here. What this team does is play really well as a team. They make the extra pass. We know where our bread and butter is, inside with Grace, and we just feed off that.”

After trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, a Brenni Trip runner and a Lexi King trey early in the third quarter allowed Goreville to slice the lead to 12. But, Baalman stepped up big time.

Baalman sandwiched four buckets around a Holland trey and the Warriors quickly rebuilt the lead to 23 points.

“We had a little momentum,” Helton said. “We got a couple shots we liked. They didn’t quite go in. You’re behind, and you force a couple shots. We did a nice job of making a push, but every time we’d make a bucket, they had an answer.”

“We felt if we could kind of get them out of the double team we could find Grace on the backside,” Baalman said. “We had four or five possessions where we found Grace. If you find Grace on the blocks, she’s going to score.”

Baalman led all scorers with 27 points. Zirkelbach had 26.

“This is our fifth trip here and she’s (Baalman) probably the best player we’ve played against,” Helton said. “That kid is outstanding. If she wasn’t a Division 1 softball player, she’d be a Division 1 basketball player some place.”

Ashlyn Darnell led Goreville with 11 points.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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