No. 5 Hawks fend off  Gilbert, close in on HOIC title

Four players in double figures, SH?claims 22nd straight regular season win

South Hamilton boys’ head coach Nathan Hill bellows out instructions during a second-half offensive possession against Gilbert on Tuesday. Hill has led the No. 5-ranked (Class 2A) Hawks to 22 consecutive regular season wins. They’re 35-2 in the regular season since the start of the 2016-17 season. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

GILBERT — Cole Berg tried to play it cool, like standing at the free throw line time after time in the waning minutes with a perfect season on the line wasn’t a big deal.

A sly smile gave him away though. So did the constant deep breaths that he took as he eyed the rim before he let the foul shots fly.

Berg didn’t make them all, but he made enough down the stretch to preserve perfection for the fifth-ranked (Class 2A) South Hamilton boys’ basketball team Tuesday night. He went 4 of 8 at the stripe over the final 1:41 and sprinkled in the team’s lone field goal in the last 4:36 to help the Hawks fend off Heart of Iowa Conference rival Gilbert, 64-61.

“It’s a loud environment and hard to shoot in there,” Berg said after scoring 18 points, eight of them at the line, and pulling down seven rebounds. “I just need to focus more.”

It was South Hamilton’s 22nd consecutive regular season victory, but the players weren’t able to exhale until Gilbert’s last gasp — a potential game-tying 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer — flew long of the basket.

Cole Berg exhales as he eyes the rim before the first of two free throws with 6.7 seconds left against Gilbert on Tuesday. He made it to give the Hawks the deciding three-point lead and they went on to win, 64-61. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“We knew it would be a dogfight,” Marco Balderas, South Hamilton’s all-state point guard, said after he went off for 18 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. “Every time we come here, the crowd shows up .. and this is the second time playing them this season, so we knew they’d be ready and wanting revenge.”

Gilbert (6-9, 5-6 HOIC) has had South Hamilton’s number on its home floor in recent years. The Tigers entered having won the last three meetings in Gilbert.

“The crowd just gets going, especially when they get on a big run,” Balderas said. “It’s tough sometimes.”

And this isn’t the same Gilbert team that struggled early in the season. Healthy and confident, the Tigers beat Greene County last Friday and then pushed No. 3-ranked (3A) Norwalk before ultimately losing by 10 on Saturday.

“This is a team that is getting better,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said of Gilbert. “They’re getting a lot more confidence … I told (our) guys from the get go that it was going to be a four-quarter game. Every possession mattered on both ends.”

South Hamilton guard Marco Balderas hits an off-balance circus shot on a drive to the bucket in the third quarter against Gilbert on Tuesday. He scored 18 points in the fifth-ranked (Class 2A) Hawks’ 64-61 victory. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Conner Hill added 10 points, five rebounds and two steals in the win, and Cade Balvanz came off the bench and scored 10 points for South Hamilton (16-0, 11-0 HOIC), which is 35-2 in the regular season since the beginning of the 2016-17 season.

Will Turner scored a game-high 19 points for Gilbert. Matt Barragy was a solid wing man with 17.

South Hamilton led by 11 points, 55-44, with 4:11 remaining, but Gilbert answered with a 10-1 run over the next 21⁄2 minutes to close to within 56-54 with 1:45 to go.

Problems with Gilbert’s extended and trapping defense put the Hawks back on their heels and made finishing the game harder than it probably needed to be.

“I felt we were playing not to lose at that point,” Nathan Hill said. “We quit attacking. But we need games like this. We’ll watch film and this is a good learning experience for us because we have to be able to close out games.”

Hawks’ senior Logan Klemp (20) puts up a shot against Gilbert on Tuesday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

An uncontested layup by Berg after South Hamilton beat the press gave the Hawks a 61-57 cushion with 18 seconds to go, but Turner quickly answered with a jumper with 8.8 ticks remaining.

But the Tigers’ top scorer fouled out when he was forced to hack Berg with 6.7 seconds remaining. Berg made the first of two free throws, but missed the second to give the Tigers one final shot to try to force overtime.

It hit nothing but air.

South Hamilton roared out to an early 19-6 lead behind its fast-break offense. Balvanz finished off a 10-0 run that forced a Gilbert timeout with 2:13 left in the first quarter.

The Tigers settled down and answered with a 15-4 spurt over the next five minutes and change to close to within 23-21.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Conner Hill hit the second of his two 3-pointers late in the half to give the Hawks a 32-26 edge at the intermission.

Balderas asserted himself early in the third quarter and scored eight quick points to extend the lead back to 10, 42-32. South Hamilton led by as many as 14 in the period and 11 heading into the fourth.

“I just wanted to attack more,” Balderas said of his third-quarter surge. “We wanted to get downhill more because we weren’t doing that in the first half.”

South Hamilton finished 19 of 30 at the charity stripe, including 10 of 16 in the final stanza.

The win, coupled with Prairie City-Monroe’s loss to Nevada on Tuesday, puts the Hawks in an enviable position. They can clinch their second straight conference title with a win over the Mustangs on Friday in Jewell.

“It’s the next game and it’s a huge game,” Nathan Hill said.

South Hamilton 64, Gilbert 61

Tuesday at Gilbert

South Hamilton (16-0, 11-0 HOIC) — Marco Balderas 6 6-9 18, Cole Berg 5 8-13 18, Logan Peters 1 4-6 7, Quinton Grove 0 1-2 1, Logan Klemp 0 0-0 0, Conner Hill 4 0-0 10, Cade Balvanz 5 0-0 10. Totals: 21 19-30 64.

Gilbert (6-9, 5-6 HOIC) — Matt Ockey 3 0-0 7, Tommy Doyle 2 3-4 7, Matt Barragy 6 5-6 17, Will Turner 8 2-2 19, Ben Simodynes 0 0-0 0, Tanner Henningsen 0 0-0 0, Tony Terrones 1 0-0 3, Jack Anderson 0 0-0 0, Jeff Rudman 0 0-0 0, Garrison Holck 3 1-3 8. Totals: 23 11-15 61.

S. Hamilton 19 13 16 16 — 64

Gilbert 11 15 11 24 — 61

3-point field goals — SH 3 (Hill 2, Peters); GIL 4 (Ockey, Turner, Terrones, Holck). Rebounds — SH 30 (Berg 7, Peters 7, Balderas 6). Steals — SH 6 (Balderas 3, Hill 2). Assists — SH 12 (Balderas 6, Peters 3). Turnovers — SH 12, GIL 7. Team fouls — SH 17, GIL 26. Fouled out — GIL: Ockey, Turner, Holck).