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STEELEVILLE — It didn’t take long for the Goreville Blackcats to put their stamp on the Class 1A Steeleville Sectional battle with New Athens.

The Blackcats came out firing against the New Athens zone. Breanna Stout and Lexi King hit early 3-pointers to stake Goreville to an early 6-2 lead. However, it was the Goreville defense that separated the two teams.

Goreville advanced to the Steeleville Sectional final with a 67-23 win, where they will play the winner of Monday's late matchup between Marissa and Gallatin County. 

New Athens simply had no answer for Goreville’s aggressive man-to-man. The Blackcats were able to poke the ball away from New Athens’ guards on the perimeter, and when the Yellow Jackets tried to throw the ball inside, Goreville defenders were there to intercept passes or bat them aside to teammates.

The Yellow Jackets turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter, allowing Goreville to finish on an 8-2 run and a 14-6 lead.

If there were any doubts about Goreville’s defensive dominance they were erased in the first two minutes of the second quarter, when the Blackcats went on a 9-0 run.

Katie Benard took advantage of a Goreville steal for an uncontested runout. Another Blackcat steal resulted in a Payton Sopczak free throw. Junior guard Kelsey Ray capped the run with a pair of 3-pointers over the sagging New Athens zone.

Danika White’s free throws broke the Goreville string, but by that time, Goreville was sitting atop a 23-8 advantage.

“We went through a stretch where not only did we not score well, but we didn’t really move the ball well,” said Goreville coach Mike Helton. “Then, when we moved the ball well, we didn’t really make shots.”

New Athens continued to turn the ball over, allowing Goreville to consistently build its lead. The halftime advantage reached 36-10 when Hallie Martin got free under the bucket after her teammates peeled about 30 seconds off the clock.

Little changed in the second half as Goreville continued its barrage of treys. The Blackcats finished with 13 3-pointers, five from Ray.

“The other thing that really helped us, we really shared the ball,” Helton said. “There were like two times in the first half I felt like we really should have kicked it. If we move the ball like that, we’re going to be a tough out.”

Rey led the Blackcats with 15 points while Martin had 11. White proved to be the Yellow Jackets' only scoring threat, scoring 12 of New Athens' 23 points.

Six different players hit 3-pointers for the Blackcats.

“Last year we had four kids that shot over 33 percent, but this year we just went through a stretch where we just didn’t shoot the ball well,” Helton said. “Really, it was just how well the kids moved the ball. We started the game with a couple sets just to kind of probe where they would be, but we ran just kind of a motion zone attack.”

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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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