Hawks’ mission is simple: To win the whole dang thing
The bitterness of letting last year’s state quarterfinal slip away still lingers, provides motivation
JEWELL — As Marco Balderas sees it, there really is no need to wonder or worry about what will happen at the state basketball tournament.
It’s kind of like taking a test. Listen in class, study your butt off and an ‘A’ should be a foregone conclusion.
The same can be said about the Hawks as they embark on the final chapter of what has been a fairy tale season.
“If we do what we can do, I know the outcome,” Balderas said without a sliver of arrogance or cockiness in his voice. “So there is a right and wrong way this can go.”
Third-ranked South Hamilton (24-0), one of only two unbeaten teams in the Class 2A field, will begin its quest for a title this evening when it tangles with fifth-ranked Aplington-Parkersburg (23-1) in a state quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.
It’s been 364 days since the Hawks lost. That also happens to be the last time they stood on the state-tournament court after Western Christian rallied from a 29-13 deficit to claim a 53-47 victory on its way to a second straight 2A championship.
The bitterness of that setback still lingers. South Hamilton entered that contest thinking it could compete with anyone in the state. This time it will step into the center circle for the tip-off knowing it.
“We’ve had one goal on our mind since we got beat last year and that goal has not changed,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said. “And it’s within our grasp.
“We’ve had that bad taste in our mouths ever since we got beat last year. Each player left there knowing that we were as good as anybody there.”
Six of the seven players in South Hamilton’s rotation logged minutes a year ago. Four were in the starting lineup. That experience paid dividends through a regular season in which the Hawks won by an average of 18.3 points per game.
Simply reaching the state tournament a season ago was enough to satisfy the pallets of some. But this eighth trip is about more than just showing up and collecting a participation trophy.
“We’re still thrilled to be going back to state, but we’re hoping to win the thing,” Conner Hill, the Hawks’ starting shooting guard said. “This year we expect more out of ourselves.”
Tonight’s test against A-P figures to be a nail-biter, the norm when the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds square off. The Falcons have won nine straight games since their lone setback — a 70-66 loss to Dunkerton — and they posses the top-rated offense in the class.
With a pair of towers that prefer to play on the perimeter, A-P averages 75.5 points per game and has won by an average of 25.4 points. Point guard Alec Oberhauser is a 6-foot-6 senior nightmare match-up who averages 16.2 points per game. Carter Cuvelier, a 6-5 forward, also plays facing the basket and is at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket.
“They’re very unique,” Nathan Hill said. “A 6-6 point guard, that’s pretty unusual in Class 2A. (Oberhauser) uses his length and body well. Cuvelier is more of an off the dribble guy himself. He’ll do a little posting, but he likes to take it off the bounce.”
With no one taller than 6-5, the match-up isn’t ideal for South Hamilton. But don’t expect the Hawks to alter their philosophy of aggressive man-to-man defense with plenty of help at the rim.
“We have a plan and a lot of it just includes good help defense,” Nathan Hill said. “Similar to what we did against East Marshall (in the substate).”
The Falcons have buried 172 3-pointers on the season and like to play with tempo. That won’t be a problem for South Hamilton, which always enjoys a good track meet on the hardwood.
“We won’t try to slow it down,” Nathan Hill said. “We have no problem playing up-tempo with these guys.”
South Hamilton and A-P have a modicum of familiarity. They met in a preseason jamboree, a 16-minute exhibition that went the Hawks way, 33-29. But that was nearly four months ago, a lifetime in a basketball season.
“That doesn’t really mean anything at this point in the year,” Nathan Hill said. “I’ve looked back at the tape and you could tell that both teams were a week into the season.”
South Hamilton is one of only two teams in the 2A field that has four players averaging in double figures. Balderas, a four-year starter, leads the way at 14.5 points per game. Conner Hill (13.2), Logan Peters (12.2) and Cole Berg (11.2) join him. Logan Klemp (5.8 ppg) will round out the starting lineup, and Cade Balvanz (6.1) and Quinton Grove (2.8) will see time off the bench.
Balderas needs just four points to become the seventh player in program history to score 1,000 career points. But that holds little significance for the point guard and Briar Cliff recruit; he hopes to cap his illustrious career with the biggest prize of them all.
“This is my last year and knowing it comes down to these last couple of weeks, it’s hard to believe,” he said. “But it’s been a fun process. I don’t want it to end yet and I want it to end right.”
South Hamilton will lean on Balderas and fellow senior Klemp, who knows a thing or two about pressure situations himself. Klemp earned a scholarship to play football at Iowa in the fall.
Tonight’s winner will face either top-ranked Treynor (24-0) or Wapello (23-1) in the semifinals Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m.
Aplington-Parkersburg Falcons (23-1)
No Player Ht Gr ppg rpg
2-2 Aaron Price 6-2 Jr 5.5 2.6
3-3 Cody Hoff 6-0 Sr 7.3 4.7
4-4 Carter Cuvelier 6-5 Jr 19.1 7.3
5-5 Grant Truax 6-0 Sr 9.1 1.4
32-32 Alec Oberhauser 6-6 Sr 16.2 6.9
Offensive Average: 75.5 ppg (1st in field)
Defensive Average: 50.1 ppg (7th in field)
Head Coach: Aaron Thomas — 16th year (245-128)
Conference/Finish: North Iowa Cedar-East/1st
State Tournament Trips: 6
State Tournament W-L: 3-6
Win Streak: 9
Losses: Dunkerton, 70-66.
Trek To State: Districts — New Hampton, 69-53, and Dike New Hartford, 78-46; Substate — Garner-Hayfield/Ventura, 65-60.
Did You Know? Prior to combing with Parkersburg, Aplington won back-to-back state titles in 1991/92.
South Hamilton Hawks (24-0)
No Player Ht Gr ppg rpg
2-2 Marco Balderas 5-9 Sr 14.5 3.9
5-5 Cole Berg 6-1 Jr 11.2 4.6
14-14 Logan Peters 6-2 Jr 12.2 5.5
20-20 Logan Klemp 6-3 Sr 5.8 3.7
25-25 Conner Hill 6-0 Jr 13.2 4.6
Offensive Average: 64.5 ppg (6th in field)
Defensive Average: 46.2 ppg (4th in field)
Head Coach: Nathan Hill — 4th year (66-29).
Conference/Finish: Heart of Iowa/1st
State Tournament Trips: 8
State Tournament W-L: 4-7
Win Streak: 24
Trek To State: Districts — Ogden, 72-51, and Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, 76-50; Substate — East Marshall, 52-32.
Did You Know? The Hawks’ 24-game win streak is the longest in school history.