Hawks’ reserves do a lot more than just warm the bench

The team behind the team a vital piece to South Hamilton’s undefeated season

They make up the scout team, the group that does the dirty work in practice for the South Hamilton boys’ basketball team. Included in the group are (left to right) Carter Hewitt, Cade Flaugh, Aaron Hegland, Zeke Balderas, Garrett Grady, Doran Lutjen and Sam Lewis. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

JEWELL — It’s all of the work with very few of the perks, not exactly something a lot of kids would be happy to volunteer for. And yet there they are, every afternoon at 3:30 p.m., ready to do their parts for the betterment of the team.

It’s exhausting. Sometimes frustrating. But vital. Oh, so vital.

We’re talking about South Hamilton’s scout team. Not the bench warmers. Not the scrubs. The scout team, a collection of seven players that bust their butts in practice on a daily basis with eyes wide open about their possibilities of playing time on Tuesday and Friday nights throughout the winter months.

Senior Garrett Grady. Juniors Zeke Balderas and Sam Lewis. Sophomores Cade Flaugh, Aaron Hegland and Doran Lutjen. And freshman Carter Hewitt. They’re rarely in the spotlight, but they have just as much blood, sweat and tears in South Hamilton’s 24-0 season as do their seven teammates who make up the Hawks’ varsity rotation.

“I make it very clear to the team that we’re only as good as the last player on our team,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill explains.

Right, Zeke Balderas races the ball into the frontcourt during a December game in Jewell. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Minutes are hard to come by on good teams. Add in the luster of a Hawks’ squad that is in the midst of a potentially historic season as they prepare for Monday’s Class 2A state quarterfinal against Aplington-Parkersburg and those precious moments of court time are even harder to find.

Do those members of the scout team want to be on the floor? Of course, otherwise they wouldn’t be competitors. But they also understand that, right now, a starring role isn’t in the cards, and so they do anything and everything they can to help out the team.

“Sometimes it can get tough, but it comes down to whatever you can do for the team,” Hegland said. “Coach always says how important it is for us to give it all we’ve got and our team is only as good as we are, so we always try to give it our best effort. We just want to help the team in whatever way we can.”

One week they may be mimicking Greene County’s free-flowing, past-paced offense, only to have to turn around and transform themselves into a more regimented group as they push their teammates in practice.

It’s not easy. You try portraying different players with different strengths and weaknesses from one day to the next. Nobody could pull it off with perfection, but the South Hamilton seven gives it their best shot.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“We just have fun with it and we try our best, that’s for sure,” Lewis said. “It’s just our role. We do what we can.”

Last week’s mission of simulating the lanky, athletic bodies of East Marshall’s 6-foot-4 forwards Zaine Leedom and Zane Johnson probably wasn’t easy. But they must have managed OK considering third-ranked South Hamilton shackled the Mustangs and held them to just 32 points in a 20-point substate blowout.

Their reward? A little more than a minute of playing time as the clock wound down and the state qualifier banner was being unfolded Saturday night. And you better believe everyone on the South Hamilton side of the Nevada High School gymnasium was excited to see them whip off their warm-up shirts and take the court.

Only Balderas has played in more than 14 games and averages more than one point an outing. While he’s connected on seven shots from the floor, the other six players have just seven field goals combined.

If anyone would have a reason to be unhappy on the scout team it would be Balderas. Early in the season he was part of the Hawks’ varsity rotation, but the emergence of sophomore Quinton Grove bumped him into his new role.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Balderas is an all-district football offensive lineman and all-conference pitcher on the baseball diamond. He wants to be a part of the battle, not watching it from the bench. But here’s where one of his greatest qualities comes into focus; he gets it. His role early in the season was as a reserve who generated eight to 12 minutes per game. Those minutes disappeared, but it never altered his work ethic.

“It’s just the role I accepted,” Balderas said. “(Early in the season) I was a role player and I did as much as I could to help out the team in a minute or two. But now I’m helping by getting them ready for state. It’s a good thing having us. We just like pushing and see the varsity grow. It’s amazing to see how much growth we’ve made in a year or two.”

South Hamilton’s unprecedented success has no doubt made their jobs easier to accept. Would they be content to exert every ounce of energy they have day after day for a team that was 5-16? Human nature says probably not.

“When you’re having success, it’s a lot easier to buy into those types of roles than if you’re losing and trying to get those kids to accept it,” Hill admitted. “On our team, (players) understand that you better play defense and you better be a good teammate if you want to see the floor.”

Just by their actions, South Hamilton’s seven bench guys have proven they’re good teammates. And if the Hawks do something special in Des Moines next week, they’ll be right there celebrating.

As they should be.

Monday’s State Tournament Games

What: Class 2A State Quarterfinal

Who: No. 3 South Hamilton (24-0) vs. No. 5 Aplington-Parkersburg (23-1)

Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Note: The Hawks and Falcons met in a preseason jamboree back in November. South Hamilton prevailed in the 16-minute exhibition, 33-29.