Marco Balderas was a fighter until the bitter end
Always labeled as the small guy, senior PG leaves lasting legacy
The best player on the brightly lit court was also the smallest player on the court inside Wells Fargo Arena Monday night.
Equal parts tactician and Superman, Marco Balderas hoisted his South Hamilton teammates on his shoulders and said get comfortable boys, I’ve got this. And guess what? He almost pulled it off.
The performance — 24 points, six rebounds, three assists and ZERO TURNOVERS in 32 minutes — meant little to the Hawks’ 5-foot-9 point guard as he spoke with a hitch in his voice while amazingly holding back the tears following a 54-51 loss to Aplington-Parkersburg in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
The numbers were immaterial. The 1,000 career points plateau he reached in the first quarter didn’t help to soothe the pain either. He came to Des Moines for one purpose and that was to bring South Hamilton its first boys’ basketball state championship. On that front he felt like he failed.
Hey, Marco, I’ve got news for you: Failure is the last word I’d use to describe what you pulled off Monday night.
Without Balderas playing the role of Magic Johnson, South Hamilton would have been in deep trouble. Forget about a close game or a shot at the buzzer to send the contest into overtime; it would have been over by the half.
The surprise is that anyone would be surprised by what he orchestrated against an A-P crew that looked like Sherwood Forest with a pair of 6-5 and 6-6 trees standing in his way. And it’s not like Balderas caught fire from the perimeter and rattled in one 3-pointer after another. The majority of his 11 field goals came on slashing moves into the paint where he left the Falcons flailing away and wondering why they couldn’t contain the little guy.
It. Was. Masterful.
“I (didn’t) see anything different than I’ve seen his whole career. He’s a fighter,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said. “He plays six inches bigger than he probably is.”
A nine-second sequence late in the third quarter revealed all you need to know about his grit. On one of his many drives to the bucket, Balderas elevated near the rim and was hammered, I’m talking a clothesline that would make The Undertaker proud. At the mercy of gravity, Balderas landed on his back as his head slammed into the hardwood on the baseline.
No foul was called.
Balderas didn’t miss a beat though. After shaking out the cobwebs, he began to race towards the other end. A Conner Hill steal started the break the other way and he found Balderas streaking towards the basket once again. Hill hit him in stride and Balderas went up again, only this time with a forearm extended to deliver a little punishment of his own. The basket: good. The foul: on A-P. The three-point play: completed moments later.
Put that moment in time, from the 2:32 mark to the 2:23 mark of the third period, on any and all highlight videos of the season.
“Just looking at him, you wouldn’t think he’d be that big of a factor on our team, but he’s had a great career,” Conner Hill said. “He’ll go down as one of the best point guards to go through South Hamilton.”
One of the best? Or the best? An argument could certainly be made for the latter.
I can remember the first time I saw Balderas on the court back in December of 2014. I can also remember the snickers that came from the opposing student section when the pint-sized 5-2 kid with shorts that looked more like culottes stepped onto the floor. And then those same kids watched him dribble and break ankles, and soon enough those snickers died down for good.
He leaves South Hamilton with a first-ballot Hall of Fame résumé. He’s the program’s all-time assists leader (406). He’s No. 2 on the steals leaderboard (170). His 1,020 points ranks sixth. He also owns the single-game assists (14) and single-season free throw (87.4 percent) marks.
Points 999 and 1,000 came on a drive and short floater over the taller defense with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter on Monday. He didn’t celebrate it for even a moment though. As the South Hamilton student section held up the “1,000” signs and yelped with pride, he simply jogged back on defense and went back to work.
“It’s a nice accomplishment, but I wanted to go farther,” Balderas said simply when asked about becoming just the seventh Hawk to ever reach 1,000 points.
That’s who he is. A worker. A great teammate. Little flash, but all style and substance. And, boy, is he going to be missed.
“His team needed him to step up and he was not going to back down,” Nathan Hill said of Monday’s show. “He just took over and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
In time the pain will go away. But his accomplishments never will.
BY THE NUMBERS
A look at just some of the accomplishments of Marco Balderas during his four years at South Hamilton.
•1,020 career points in 90 games.
•Ranks 6th all-time in points scored.
•13.6 points per game average.
•100 career 3-point baskets.
•School-record 406 career assists.
•Single-game assists record holder (14).
•170 career steals, second all-time.
•84 percent career FT (260-311).
•Single-season FT record (87 pct).
•Team record 66-30 over four years.
•Team 46-4 last two years.
•Three substate appearances.
•Two state appearances.
•Two HOIC championships.