Here we go again! Hawks headed back to the Class 2A state tournament

Substate rematch a total mismatch, SH crushes Mustangs by 20

South Hamilton seniors Logan Klemp (left) and Marco Balderas embrace after the third-ranked Hawks thumped No. 7 East Marshall, 52-32, in the Class 2A Substate 7 championship game on Saturday in Nevada. Now 24-0, South Hamilton will make its eighth overall state tournament appearance. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

NEVADA — Conner Hill could not have cared less that he went without a field goal and scored just four points. As far as he was concerned, he had done his job.

And do you know what? He was right. Boy, was he right.

Hill’s priority was at the defensive end of the floor Saturday night and it was a credo all of his South Hamilton teammates mimicked. Aggressive, in-your-face nasty team defense.

Hawks’ head coach Nathan Hill had never been more proud.

Third-ranked South Hamilton (24-0) clinched a return trip to the Class 2A state tournament by muzzling seventh-ranked East Marshall for 32 minutes in the Substate 7 championship in front of a packed house at Nevada High School. The Hawks never trailed after the 3:43 mark of the first quarter and led by double digits throughout the second half en route to a 52-32 victory.

The South Hamilton boys’ basketball team poses with its state qualifier banner after its 52-32 Class 2A substate win over East Marshall on Saturday in Nevada. It will be the Hawks third trip to state in the last five years and eighth overall appearance. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

It marks the first time in school history that South Hamilton advanced to state in back-to-back seasons. It’s the program’s eighth trip overall.

In a rematch of the 2017 substate that was won by South Hamilton 53-51 inside the same gymnasium, the Hawks’ school-record 24th consecutive victory was all about defense. They limited East Marshall (22-1) to just 12 field goals and a dismal 1 for 17 performance from behind the 3-point arc. The Mustangs mustered a single point in the third quarter and that came on a free throw with 43 seconds remaining.

“To see us playing this type of defense at this time of year, this is what we’ve been after,” Nathan Hill said.

Conner Hill got the defensive assignment on Mustangs’ point guard Tyler DeBondt, who finished with just five points and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. East Marshall’s big three of DeBondt, Zaine Leedom and Zane Johnson entered the contest averaging 41.7 points per game; they combined for just 22 on Saturday, 12 of those coming from Leedom.

“My main focus was getting stops on defense because I knew we’d be able to score on offense,” Conner Hill said. “Defensively, especially in the second half, we just broke them down.”

South Hamilton’s Conner Hill (right) drives the lane and has his shot challenged by East Marshall’s Zaine Leedom in the second half on Saturday in Nevada. Leedom was whistled for a foul on the play. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Johnson’s only field goal came 31 seconds into the game. He was relegated to the bench for a portion of the second quarter after he picked up his second foul. He fouled out with 3:38 remaining in the contest when he was called for a block on a Marco Balderas baseline drive and then earned a technical — his fifth foul — for pushing Balderas in the back after the whistle.

Leedom scored 10 of his points in the first half, but was quiet after the break. Cole Berg got the initial defensive assignment on the 6-foot-4 forward, but Logan Klemp took over in the second half and put the clamps on.

“I knew Klemp could guard either one of those guys (Johnson or Leedom),” Nathan Hill said. “He’s improved on his lateral movement so much this year … he can guard a guard or he can take a big. He’s one of our key pieces to making it all work.”

East Marshall is the eighth opponent that South Hamilton has held under 40 points this season.

“Our defense was great and that’s something that coach challenged us at halftime about,” Hawks’ forward Logan Peters, who led all scorers with 16 points, said. “We’ve played good defense all year though.”

Hawks’ reserve Quinton Grove (15) fires up a 3-pointer from the corner over East Marshall’s Jimmy Sylvester (32) in the second half on Saturday. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

It was Peters’ shooting early on that helped South Hamilton work out the jitters. East Marshall built a quick 8-3 lead, but Peters canned a pair of 3-pointers in a span of 1:05 to stunt the Mustangs’ momentum and had eight of the team’s first nine points.

“That was big on Logan’s part because we got off to a slow start,” Balderas, the Hawks’ senior point guard, said. “For him to hit some shots and get the crowd into it really helped us.”

South Hamilton took a 15-11 edge after one quarter and quickly expanded it with an 8-0 surge in the second. Quinton Grove came off the bench and promptly buried a 3 from the left wing and then scored on a drive to the bucket to give the Hawks their first double-digit lead, 23-13.

Cade Balvanz supplied four more bench points in the opening half to help stake the Hawks to a 29-22 advantage.

“Their confidence has really grown this season,” Nathan Hill said of Grove and Balvanz. “They didn’t even hesitate, they were looking for their shots.”

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

It didn’t take South Hamilton long to extend its cushion in the third quarter. A Balderas triple from the wing made it 32-22, part of another 8-0 spurt that Peters capped with his third trey.

The margin reached 18 points, 41-23, on a Balderas run out with six minutes remaining in the clash, but East Marshall didn’t go quietly. A three-point play by DeBondt, followed by jumpers by Eli Johnson and Leedom and two Johnson free throws, cut it to 43-32 with 4:23 left.

But that was as close as the Mustangs could get. South Hamilton made 7 of 12 free throws over the final 3:38 to close it out.

“As disciplined as we played on the defensive end, we got a little undisciplined late on the offensive end,” Nathan Hill said. “We had eight turnovers in the second half and that has to improve.”

Peters connected on 6 of 8 shots from the field and added 10 rebounds. Balderas finished with 14 points and four assists, and he now sits just four points shy of becoming the seventh South Hamilton player to reach 1,000 career points.

Berg added six points, as the Hawks shot 56 percent from the floor (18 of 33).

South Hamilton will play in a 2A state quarterfinal inside Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines either on Monday, March 5 or Tuesday, March 6. Four of the 2A substate games were postponed until this evening because of weather, which delayed the state pairings.

South Hamilton 52, East Marshall 32

Class 2A Substate 7 Final

Saturday at Nevada

South Hamilton (24-0) — Marco Balderas 4 5-8 14, Aaron Hegland 0 1-2 1, Carter Hewitt 0 0-0 0, Cole Berg 3 0-4 6, Sam Lewis 0 0-0 0, Logan Peters 6 1-2 16, Quinton Grove 2 0-0 5, Logan Klemp 1 0-0 2, Cade Flaugh 0 0-0 0, Zeke Balderas 0 0-0 0, Conner Hill 0 4-4 4, Cade Balvanz 2 0-0 4, Garrett Grady 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 11-20 52.

East Marshall (22-1) — Evan Espenscheid 0 0-0 0, Zaine Leedom 6 0-1 12, Zach Finders 0 0-0 0, Zane Johnson 1 3-6 5, Eli Anderson 3 1-3 8, Tyler DeBondt 1 3-3 5, Logan Nicholson 1 0-0 2, Jimmy Sylvester 0 0-0 0, Cade Murphy 0 0-0 0, Cam Hungerford 0 0-0 0, Gage Hulin 0 0-0 0, Brayden Fahrni 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 7-13 32.

S. Hamilton 15 14 8 15 — 52

E. Marshall 11 11 1 9 — 32

3-point field goals — SH 5 (Peters 3, Grove, M. Balderas); EM 1 (Anderson). Rebounds — SH 26 (Peters 10, Hill 4). Steals — SH 2. Assists — SH 9 (M. Balderas 4). Team fouls — SH 15, EM 17. Fouled out — EM: Johnson.