GODFREY – The Alton girls basketball team couldn't have asked for a better start in its 2017-18 season.
Playing with a new coach and five returning players from last year's team that finished with just three victories, the Redbirds didn't have any trouble against the Calhoun Warriors in a first-round game of the Alton Tip-Off Classic on Tuesday, storming to a 6-0 lead en route to a 51-37 win.
AHS advances to play the Breese Central Cougars, who beat Lanphier 47-27 in a first-round game on Wednesday, in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Defending tournament champion Mater Dei and Jersey will square off in the other semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Riverview Gardens and Springfield Southeast will play in a consolation semifinal game at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Calhoun and Lanphier will play in the other consolation semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday.
A year ago, the Redbirds finished 0-3 in the Alton tournament. Tuesday's victory marked the first time since '13 Alton won its season opener.
The Redbirds also helped Tammy Talbert turn in a strong debut in her second stint as Alton coach. Talbert coached the Redbirds from 2002-2008 and worked as an assistant last year under Bob Rickman, who resigned after the '16-17 season.
The Redbirds never trailed in Tuesday's game. After Alton took a 6-0 lead, Calhoun came back to get within one point twice in the first half, but couldn't get any closer.
After the Warriors got within 10-9 late in the second quarter, the Redbirds responded with a 6-0 run to take a 16-9 lead. They led 22-13 at halftime and 36-23 after the third quarter.
Last year, Alton lost to Calhoun 58-25 in a first-round game of the Alton tournament. The Warriors went on to finish second in the tournament after losing to Mater Dei in the championship game.
The Redbirds made sure they weren't going to lose to the Warriors in the first round for the second year in a row as they forced the Hardin school to 35 turnovers, including 15 in the first quarter.
Alton got solid efforts from juniors Chr'shonna Hickman and sophomores Rayn Tally and Ivoree Lacey
Hickman, who was the Redbirds' leading scorer at 7.3 points per game, scored a team high 15 points, including 9 in the second half.
Tally, who was Alton's lone representative on the all-tournament team in last year's Alton Tip-Off Classic, added 10. She scored a basket with 4:37 left in the first to give the Redbirds 6-0 lead. With 4:32 to go in the second, she made a steal and scored a basket to increase Alton's lead to 16-9. Last year, Tally scored 12 points against Calhoun.
Lacey, a 6 foot center, scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. She poured in 11 in the fourth quarter.
Alton had a total of nine players score at least one point on Tuesday. Last year, the Redbirds had just four players score against the Warriors.
Calhoun, which lost five players from last year's team that placed third in the Class 1A state tournament, was led by a pair of seniors – Junie Zirkelbach and Emily Baalman. Zirkelbach scored 16 points and Baalman finished with 11, all of them were in the second half.
The Warriors also have a new coach in Mark Hillen, who replaced Aaron Baalman over the summer.
ALTON TIP-OFF CLASSIC
ALTON REDBIRDS 51, CALHOUN WARRIORS 37
Warriors 8 5 10 14 – 37
Redbirds 9 13 14 15 – 51
Calhoun – Emily McBride 4, Junie Zirkelbach 16, Emily Baalman 13, Ashleigh Presley 2, Sophie Lorton 2, Emily Clowers 2. 2FG-12 3FG-1 FT-10.
Alton – Zakaya Watson 2, Jayla Fox 1, Ivoree Lacey 12, Diarra Smith 4, Chr'shonna Hickman 15, Rayn Tally 10, Hananiah Hamilton 3, Raya Tally 2, A'llurah Bowens 2.. 2FG-18 3FG-0 FT-15.