No. 6 Hawks to battle for outright HOIC lead against No. 10 Gilbert

Discipline at the defensive end of court the goal for SH in tonight’s scheduled match-up

South Hamilton’s Cole Berg (5) is challenged at the rim by Gilbert’s Matt Barragy (4) during a Dec. 14 meeting in Gilbert. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

JEWELL — South Hamilton has waited 46 days for this opportunity.

That’s how long it’s been since 10th-ranked (Class 3A) Gilbert (13-3, 9-1 HOIC) ended the Hawks’ 33-game regular season winning streak, 70-65, in a classic heavyweight brawl on Dec. 14. Can Round 2 live up to its predecessor?

Sixth-ranked (2A) South Hamilton (15-1, 10-1 HOIC) is scheduled to host the Tigers on Coach Jim Marsh Court this evening at 7:15 p.m. However, the brutally cold weather forecast could push the clash back, quite possibly even a couple of weeks.

For now though, Hawks’ head coach Nathan Hill says his squad is preparing for the challenge. And make no mistake, it will be a challenge.

“We’ve known since we got beat by them that it would be a big game the next time around and obviously you want to avenge that loss,” Hill said. “We know what we have to do and if we do those things as a team we’ll be fine.”

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

The rematch took on a heightened meaning, in the eyes of fans anyway, over the last few days following Gilbert’s 68-57 overtime loss to Roland-Story on Friday. That pushed the Tigers and Hawks into a virtual tie atop the Heart of Iowa Conference standings.

“The winner of this game is in the driver’s seat for the Heart of Iowa,” Hill said. “It opened up the possibility of an outright title.”

But for South Hamilton to be successful, it will have to defend better than it did in December when Gilbert torched it for nine 3-point baskets. The Tigers slashed through the Hawks’ defense with ease at times, which left kick-out opportunities to wide open shooters.

Hill says that cannot happen again.

“Mainly our focus has to be on being more disciplined,” he said. “We had a lot of breakdowns defensively the first time we played them, so we just have to clean some things up. We didn’t do a good enough job of just keeping guys in front of us, but hopefully that’s something we’ve gotten better at throughout the season.”

Plenty of stars will be on display. Seven players scored in double figures that last time they met and all seven average double digits.

Conner Hill leads South Hamilton at 17.6 points per game, and he gets plenty of help from Logan Peters (14.8), Cole Berg (12.5) and Cade Balvanz (11.3).

Matt Ockey (14.4) sets the pace for Gilbert, with Will Turner (12.9) and Tanner Henningsen (10.8) following closely behind. Henningsen was a thorn in the Hawks’ side last month, as the sophomore forward went off for 18 points and drained all nine of his free throw attempts.