Hawks push past Van Meter, take 3rd in Class 2A
DES MOINES — A question served as South Hamilton’s team motto all season and it was one of the final things head coach Nathan Hill asked his players as they mulled around the locker room Wednesday night following a heartbreaking loss to Boyden-Hull in the Class 2A state semifinals.
How do you want to be remembered?
The Hawks answered that question yesterday afternoon.
Less than 17 hours after its dream of a state championship disintegrated into thin air, South Hamilton bottled up the dejection, fought through wobbly legs and knocked off Van Meter, 54-52, in the 2A consolation final inside Wells Fargo Arena.
The third-place trophy — South Hamilton’s highest state finish since a runner-up result in 1988 — was not what the Hawks (23-2) envisioned when the week began, but one final win for a program that has done almost nothing but win over the past three seasons helped to alleviate the sting.
“I’m very proud of everyone because we came in here and battled,” South Hamilton senior Conner Hill said after he went off for 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting, six rebounds, three steals and two assists in his final prep game. “We didn’t want to come in here and let another one slip away. We’d love to be playing for a state title, but at least we’re going out on a win.”
In three state tournament games, Hill averaged 22 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. He’ll likely be back in Des Moines this evening to collect an all-tournament team medal.
Logan Peters poured in 15 points. The senior guard scored South Hamilton’s opening six points and had 10 in the first half to help the Hawks build a 28-20 advantage. Classmate Cole Berg chipped in nine points and five boards.
Doran Lutjen was productive again off the bench with seven points, including a 3-pointer from the corner at the buzzer at the end of the first half to push the advantage to eight. Cade Balvanz added five more points, no two bigger than on a pair of free throws with 41.9 seconds remaining that upped the Hawks’ lead to 51-47.
“Big. Really big,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said of Balvanz’s two free throws. “I was proud of Cade and I thought he really battled.”
Quinton Grove’s three points all came on one shot from the right corner early in the second period.
Spencer Lamb led Van Meter (22-4) and all scorers with 17 points. Six-foot-9 center Ryan Schmitt produced a double-double — 12 points and 11 rebounds — for the Bulldogs.
South Hamilton never trailed in the contest, but was never able to break free from the Bulldogs either. The Hawks led by as many as 10 points in the first half and had an 11-point cushion following a 7-0 spurt midway through the third.
Up 10 following a Conner Hill steal and layup with seven minutes remaining and by nine on a Balvanz putback with 4:15 to go, South Hamilton was forced to hang on down the stretch.
Van Meter inched to within four on a Brett Berg 3 and then got within a bucket on a Schmitt make from close range.
Conner Hill drilled two free throws for a 53-49 South Hamilton edge with 24.2 seconds showing, but Brett Berg answered again with deep 3 with 9.8 seconds left.
Van Meter doubled Conner Hill out of a timeout and eventually fouled Cole Berg as he dribbled up the floor. Cole Berg made the first free throw for a two-point lead, but the second bounced off the side of the rim and gave the Bulldogs one final crack at a tie or potential win.
The ball eventually ended up in Schmitt’s hands outside the arc on the left side of the floor. He put up a shot over the outstretched arms of Balvanz and Grove as the horn blared, but it came up woefully short.
After falling to Aplington-Pakersburg in the 2018 quarterfinals on a missed 3 at the buzzer, and again on Wednesday against Boyden-Hull from the almost identical spot, South Hamilton’s players all agreed it was a relief to be on the other end of a nail-biter for a change.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of close losses, so to come out with a close win, it feels good,” Peters said.
“Not a lot of seniors can say they went out with a win,” Cole Berg said. “It’s just really special knowing these guys gave it their all.”
South Hamilton shot 45.7 percent overall and committed just eight turnovers. It also stuck with Van Meter on the glass, 27-27, despite the significant size disadvantage.
The Hawks’ four seniors — Conner Hill, Cole Berg, Sam Lewis and Peters — walk away with a resume to rival any class in program history. Over the past three seasons, South Hamilton put together a 69-6 record with three Heart of Iowa Conference championships and three state-tournament appearances.
“It’s so rewarding for a group like this that has grown up together,” Nathan Hill said while attempting to keep his emotions in check. “To share a moment like this, to cap off their senior year, not many kids get that.”
Conner Hill walks away ranking fifth all-time at South Hamilton in points scored (1,243), second in steals (172) and third in assists (380). But he says it’s the wins and memories that mean the most.
“Looking back it’s pretty darn impressive what we’ve done here,” he said. “Just being a part of that, I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
South Hamilton 54, Van Meter 52
Class 2A Consolation Final
At Wells Fargo Arena
South Hamilton (23-2) — Cole Berg 4 1-3 9, Logan Peters 7 0-0 15, Quinton Grove 1 0-0 3, Conner Hill 5 4-4 15, Cade Balvanz 1 3-4 7, Carter Hewitt 0 0-0 0, Sam Lewis 0 0-0 0, Doran Lutjen 3 0-1 7. Totals: 21 8-12 54.
Van Meter (22-4) — Anthony Potthoff 4 0-0 9, Spencer Lamb 6 4-6 17, Parker Fryar 1 0-2 3, Chris Schreck 0 0-0 0, Ryan Schmitt 6 0-0 12, Jackson Wilcox 0 0-0 0, Blade Koons 0 0-0 0, Zach Madden 0 0-0 0, Harrison Smith 0 0-0 0, Brett Berg 3 1-2 9, Lincoln Olsen 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 5-10 52.
S. Hamilton 13 15 12 14 — 54
Van Meter 8 12 12 20 — 52
3-point field goals — SH 4 (Peters, Grove, Hill, Lutjen); VM 5 (B. Berg 2, Potthoff, Lamb, Fryar). Rebounds — SH 27 (Balvanz 7, Hill 6, C. Berg 5), VM 27 (Schmitt 11). Steals — SH 6 (Grove 2, Peters 2), VM 3. Assists — SH 7 (Hill 3), VM 9 (Fryar 3). Turnovers — SH 8, VM 11. Team fouls — SH 11, VM 14. Fouled out — none.