No. 3 Hawks, No. 7 Mustangs meet again in 2A?substate

South Hamilton point guard Marco Balderas makes a nice pass in the lane during last season’s Class 2A substate game against East Marshall. They’ll meet again on Saturday. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — They’re a combined 45-0 with only 11 games decided by less than 10 points. And only one of them will make it to the state tournament.

Buckle up, folks. This could be a bumpy, but fun ride.

Third-ranked South Hamilton (23-0) and seventh-ranked East Marshall (22-0) will meet in what is sure to be a jam-packed Nevada High School gymnasium Saturday evening in the Class 2A Substate 7 final for one of those coveted tickets to state. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

If you’re experiencing a little deja vu, don’t fret. It will be a rematch from the same exact round, in the same exact gym as a season ago. South Hamilton came away with a 53-51 victory on two free throws by Marco Balderas in the waning moments and everyone on the East Marshall bench is sure to remember.

“It’s going to be fun,” South Hamilton junior shooting guard Conner Hill said following the Hawks’ 76-50 pasting of Clarion-Goldfield-Dows in the district final round on Tuesday. “They’re going to be ready for us and we’ll have to be at our best.”

South Hamilton forward Logan Klemp (11) has his shot challenged at the rim by East Marshall’s Zane Johnson (20) during the Class 2A substate game a season ago. The two top-10 undefeated teams will meet again in Saturday’s substate round in Nevada. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

There’s no doubt that it will be the Hawks toughest test of the season, but it’s a challenge that head coach Nathan Hill says his team is prepared for.

“This is the match-up that everyone has been waiting for since the pairings were released,” he said. “Most of these guys have been here before, so it’s about maintaining our focus for four quarters. If they can do that, I’ll take my chances against anybody. But we have to understand that we have to do that for four quarters.”

There will be very few secrets. Both teams return four starters from a season ago and they ran into each other multiple times on the summer circuit. Throw in a frenzied crowd and the pot of gold that awaits the winner and it’s easy to see why both will be chomping at the bit once the ball is tossed into the air.

“East Marshall is good and it’s going to be a crazy game, but we’ll be ready for it,” South Hamilton junior forward Logan Peters said. “But we’ve been there before. We know what to expect.”

South Hamilton’s biggest strength is its talent across the board. East Marshall might not be quaking about facing any single player, but the sum of the parts can be lethal.

Balderas, an all-state senior point guard, orchestrates things for the Hawks and leads them in scoring at 14.5 points per game. He enters the substate just 18 points shy of 1,000 for his career, and he’s also the program’s all-time assists leader.

Conner Hill pours in 13.6 points a night, Peters isn’t far behind at 12.0 an outing, and Cole Berg gives the club a fourth double-digit scorer at 11.4. Peters, who went off for 18 points in the rout of the Cowboys earlier this week, is the team leader in rebounds and steals.

South Hamilton will need to be at its best offensively against an East Marshall defense that ranks third in 2A in points allowed at 41.05 per game. The Mustangs are lanky and athletic and will have the advantage on the inside with twin 6-foot-4 senior forwards Zaine Leedom and Zane Johnson.

Leedom, who transferred in to East Marshall from Grinnell a year ago, is the team’s top points producer at 16.1 per game. Johnson (15.5) and senior point guard Tyler DeBondt (10.1) average in double figures as well.

Nathan Hill is quite aware of the fact that East Marshall presents some quirky match-ups with Leedom and Johnson, but he says this isn’t the time to start making wholesale changes for any opponent.

“At this point in the year, I don’t think you have to do much different,” he said. “We know who we are and we just have to be good at it.”

South Hamilton’s defense hasn’t exactly been subpar this season. The Hawks allow just 46.78 points per game and rank 12th in the class.

Just how close is this game expected to be? The BC Moore computer lists South Hamilton as the favorite, but just by 1.67 points. The Hawks closest game this season was a 70-68 overtime win over Prairie City-Monroe without Balderas in December and they’ve won their last six by an average of 17.3 points.

Top-ranked Treynor (23-0) is the only other remaining unbeaten team in the class.

Game Information

Tickets will be sold for $6 beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday night. The doors to Nevada High School will be open prior to that for fans that would like to arrive earlier and wait.

Because an overflow crowd is expected, Nevada Activities Director Dustin Smith said the upstairs concourse of the gymnasium will be opened for fans once the seating capacity is reached.

Last year’s substate game between the two programs attracted a sold-out crowd.