Heck of a run, Hawks
South Hamilton’s perfect season halted by A-P in state quarters
DES MOINES — The shot was supposed to go in. The dream was supposed to live on until the ultimate fairy tale got its happy ending.
But reality can be soul-crushing, which is why Marco Balderas, Conner Hill and Cole Berg mulled around the interview room inside Wells Fargo Arena in a daze Monday night.
They had one mission: to win a state championship. And they came up short.
“It doesn’t seem real that it ended this way,” Balderas said after South Hamilton’s run of perfection was stopped by Aplington-Parkersburg, 54-51, in a Class 2A state quarterfinal. “We worked hard all year to get to our end goal and that was to win a state championship. But we didn’t get it done. We didn’t execute.”
South Hamilton (24-1) had hope up until the bitter end. But Balderas’s contested 3-pointer from a few feet right of the top of the key careened off the rim as the horn sounded, sending A-P’s players into an on-court celebration as the Hawks looked on in stunned silence.
“I thought it was a good look,” Balderas said. “I shot it and it looked OK, but it went off to the side and that’s it.”
The Falcons (24-1) advanced to today’s semifinals against Treynor (25-0). South Hamilton, meanwhile, lost its fifth consecutive state-tournament contest. The Hawks last victory in Des Moines came in the 1A state semifinal round 30 years ago.
“It’s disappointing and very emotional,” Conner Hill said. “We thought we had a great chance of winning it, but there’s no question that (A-P) played hard and deserved to win that game. Defensively we just weren’t up to par.”
Balderas, a 5-foot-9 point guard who will play collegiately at Briar Cliff, was sensational in his final prep game. With many of his teammates struggling to find their footing, Balderas put South Hamilton on his back and attempted to carry it across the finish line. He put up 24 points, six rebounds and three assists against zero turnovers while playing all 32 minutes. Eleven of his points came in the third quarter to help stake the Hawks to a 43-39 lead with eight minutes to go.
A highlight-reel up-and-under bucket by Balderas with seven seconds remaining in the third quarter brought the Hawks’ fans to their feet, but it would be a long time before they would have anything to cheer about again. South Hamilton went the next 7 minutes, 41 seconds of game time without a field goal, a stretch in which it missed 14 consecutive shots. A put-back by Logan Peters with 26 ticks remaining finally ended the drought.
“We were getting good looks and we kept attacking when we could, but (the shots) just didn’t fall and nothing went our way,” Balderas, who earlier in the game became just the seventh South Hamilton player to score 1,000 career points, said.
A-P outscored South Hamilton 11-3 during the run of futility to build a 50-46 lead with 26 seconds remaining. Peters’ bucket from close range cut the deficit to two.
The Falcons did everything in their power to give South Hamilton a chance, as they missed all five of their fourth-quarter free throw attempts. Coby Hoff missed two freebies with eight seconds remaining, but Alec Oberhauser was there to snag the offensive rebound and score to make it 54-51. The Hawks raced the ball into the front court and took a timeout with 2.6 ticks left to set up the final play.
“There was key box-out at the end of the game that killed us, but in a tight game those things happen,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said.
The contest was a back-and-forth tug-of-war throughout. There were seven ties and 13 lead changes; South Hamilton’s biggest lead was five points on two occasions, while A-P never led by more than four.
But the usually confident Hawks never looked completely comfortable on the big stage. They shot just 34 percent, compared to 52 percent by A-P, and connected on only 23 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Conner Hill finished with 11 points, as he and Balderas kept South Hamilton afloat in the first half. They connected on a combined 7 of 13 shots while the rest of the Hawks were just 1 of 8.
“I really thought our experience last year would have helped us,” Nathan Hill said. “I had a good vibe that they were all ready to play, but sometimes you don’t know until you get out on the court. At times we were just overthinking things instead of just going out and playing.”
A-P’s length and slow-down 1-2-2 press had plenty to do with South Hamilton’s woes. It forced the Hawks to be methodical and took them out of the aggressive offense that suited them so well throughout the season.
“They slowed us down on the offensive end a little bit … no one really plays that against us,” Conner Hill said. “Hats off to them because they played it amazingly and that won the game for them.”
Nathan Hill was surprised it was as effective as it was, however.
“It ended up being a much bigger factor than I thought it would be,” he said. “You can’t simulate size and you can’t simulate the big stage. We telegraphed a lot of passes and we weren’t aggressive enough for the majority of the game.”
Berg and Peters scored seven points each and combined for 12 rebounds in the loss.
Oberhauser, a 6-6 point guard, led A-P with a double-double — 14 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Price poured in 13 and Carter Cuvelier scored 12 more.
Price was as arguably the biggest thorn in South Hamilton’s side. He scored on a traditional 3-point play midway through the third quarter after the Hawks had moved in front by five, and then buried a 3 from the left corner with 1:31 remaining in the period after South Hamilton had extended the cushion back to five.
A-P went in front for good, at 46-44, on a bucket by — who else? — Price with 4:55 remaining.
South Hamilton says goodbye to three seniors — Balderas, four-year starting forward Logan Klemp who scored two points, and Garrett Grady.
South Hamilton 51
Class 2A State Quarterfinal
Monday at Wells Fargo Arena
Aplington-Parkersburg (24-1) — Aaron Price 5-7 2-4 13, Coby Hoff 2-5 0-2 5, Carter Cuvelier 5-7 2-6 12, Grant Truax 1-4 3-4 5, Alec Oberhauser 7-11 0-1 14, Dylan Ellis 1-6 0-0 2, Sam Bachman 0-0 0-0 0, Junior Bodden 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 22-42 7-17 54.
South Hamilton (24-1) — Marco Balderas 11-23 2-2 24, Cole Berg 1-6 4-4 7, Logan Peters 3-9 0-0 7, Logan Klemp 0-2 2-2 2, Conner Hill 3-10 3-4 11, Quinton Grove 0-2 0-0 0, Cade Balvanz 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-53 11-12 51.
A-P 8 17 14 15 — 54
S. Hamilton 11 13 19 8 — 51
3-point field goals — A-P 3-13 (Price 1-1, Hoff 1-4, Ellis 1-4, Truax 0-2, Oberhauser 0-2); SH 4-17 (Hill 2-8, Berg 1-2, Peters 1-4, Balderas 0-2, Grove 0-1). Rebounds — A-P 31 (Oberhauser 10, Hoff 8, Cuvelier 5); SH 31 (Peters 7, Balderas 6, Berg 5). Steals — A-P 6 (Truax 2, Oberhauser 2); SH 4 (Hill 3). Assists — A-P 10 (Oberhauser 3); SH 8 (Balderas 3). Turnovers — A-P 12, SH 10. Team fouls — A-P 13, SH 16. Fouled out — none.