Hawks race by Rockets and into semis, end 31-year state tourney drought

South Hamilton’s players gesture towards the crowd as they celebrate their 73-61 victory over Rock Valley in a Class 2A state quarterfinal inside Wells Fargo Arena last night in Des Moines. It was the first state tournament win for South Hamilton since 1988. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

DES MOINES — Logan Peters made the early statement. Conner Hill took over completely during the middle stretch. Cole Berg brought it home.

And just like that, South Hamilton is in the Final Four, only two victories away from a state championship.

The Hawks’ senior trio performed like Wells Fargo Arena was their home court — Coach Jim Marsh Court South perhaps? — last night, as they combined to score 55 points and grab 13 rebounds to lead third-ranked and second-seeded South Hamilton to a 73-61 victory over seventh-seeded Rock Valley in a Class 2A state tournament quarterfinal.

“You could see, those three were not going to let us get beat,” South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill said after the Hawks ended a 31-year state tournament winless streak. Their last victory came in 1988, and in between wins was five consecutive losses, four in the first round including back-to-back setbacks in 2017 and 2018.

To celebrate with each other on the court and to scream at their fans as they exited the court meant everything.

South Hamilton senior Logan Peters (14) screams in celebration following the Hawks’ 73-61 win over Rock Valley last night. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“It feels good right now because it’s been a long time since we’ve won a first-round game,” Peters, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists, said. “Usually when we come down here we have a ton of jitters, but we didn’t this year. I think that helped us a lot.”

Conner Hill, South Hamilton’s savvy point guard, led all scorers with 22 points to go along with five rebounds. Berg caught fire down the stretch with a clutch basket and free throws en route to 17 points.

Doran Lutjen came through with seven clutch points off the Hawks’ bench. Cade Balvanz added six points and seven caroms, and Quinton Grove finished with five points and seven boards despite playing in foul trouble throughout.

Jaxon Rus led Rock Valley (18-8) with 18 points, 12 of them coming from behind the arc. JT Van’t Hul finished with 14, Elliot Van Kekerix 13 and Brayton Van Kekerix 10.

Brayton Van Kekerix entered the contest averaging 18 points per game, but foul difficulties and a slew of South Hamilton defenders — Grove, Lutjen and Hill all took their turns — frustrated him on his way to just 3 of 11 shooting.

South Hamilton senior Conner Hill (25) puts up an off-balance shot after getting fouled on a drive in the first half last night. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

South Hamilton (22-1), winners of 16 consecutive games, shot a blistering 52 percent form the floor (26 of 50), including 47 percent from the arc (8 of 17).

Feasting on Rock Valley’s man-to-man scheme, the Hawks connected on better than 58 percent in the first half. Conner Hill weaved his way through traffic and attacked the bucket at will for 16 points over the initial 16 minutes. Peters had 12 of his points as well in the first half.

“I was surprised they stuck with (man-to-man) the whole first half because there were gaps to be had in there,” Conner Hill said. “But when you have four or five guys that can put the ball in the hoop, it’s hard to defend. When we came out and were hitting shots, that just opens everything up.”

South Hamilton led 12-2 less than four minutes in following 3s from Hill and Peters. Berg buried one of his two triples in the final minute of the opening half to send the Hawks into the intermission ahead by nine, 42-33.

“I thought both Conner and Logan absolutely took that game over,” Nathan Hill said. “There was a stretch where nobody could guard them.”

South Hamilton junior center Cade Balvanz dives on the floor for a loose ball during the first quarter against Rock Valley in a Class 2A state quarterfinal last night in Des Moines. Balvanz scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Hawks’ 73-61 victory, as they advanced to Wednesday’s semifinal round against Boyden-Hull. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

The Hawks led wire-to-wire, something Nathan Hill said was key as Rock Valley attempted a late charge.

“When you’re always playing catch up it takes a lot of energy out of you, and you could tell they were tired,” he said.

Up 59-50 after three quarters, South Hamilton saw its lead dwindle to five within 45 seconds and the Rockets pulled as close as three with 2:47 to go.

Reeling somewhat, the Hawks needed a bucket and Berg delivered. With the ball at the top of the key, he took two dribbles to his right into the lane and tossed in a floater to push the margin back to five with 2:15 remaining. Rock Valley never got any closer.

“I knew we needed a basket there,” Berg said. “I just saw an opening and attacked it.”

Doran Lutjen (11) buries a jumper over Rock Valley’s Jaxon Rus (30) last night. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

After it spent the majority of the game struggling at the free throw line, South Hamilton came through when it mattered most. Berg buried two, Lutjen canned three of four, Berg hit two more and then it was Hill’s turn to rip the nets twice, and just like that the lead was double digits and South Hamilton had assured itself of a date with third-seeded Boyden-Hull in Wednesday’s semifinals.

“After 31 years, just getting over that first-round hump takes some of that pressure off and should loosen us up for the next game,” Conner Hill said. “I’m very proud right now.”

Boyden-Hull advanced to the semifinals with a 61-56 quarterfinal win over sixth-seeded Iowa City Regina yesterday afternoon.

South Hamilton and Boyden-Hull will tip-off at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. The winner will advance to Friday’s 4:10 p.m. championship, while the loser will drop into the third-place game on Thursday at 11:55 a.m.

And only minutes after the win over Rock Valley, the Hawks were looking ahead.

Cole Berg comes out of a scrum with a loose ball in the first half last night. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“We can celebrate on the bus ride home, but once we get home we’ve got to get right back to work,” Peters said.

South Hamilton 73, Rock Valley 61

Class 2A State Quarterfinal

At Wells Fargo Arena

Des Moines


Rock Valley (18-8) — Colton Vonk 2 0-0 4, Brayton Van Kekerix 3 4-8 10, JT Van’t Hul 5 3-3 14, Elliot Van Kekerix 3 7-9 13, Jaxon Rus 6 2-2 18, Carter Kats 0 0-0 0, Cody Moser 0 0-0 0, Isaac Hanson 0 0-0 0, Trey Huyser 0 0-0 0, Eric Salazar 0 0-0 0, Brys Van Grootheest 1 0-0 2, Drake Bakker 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 16-22 61.

South Hamilton (22-1) — Cole Berg 5 5-8 17, Logan Peters 7 0-0 16, Quinton Grove 2 0-0 5, Conner Hill 8 3-4 22, Cade Balvanz 2 2-5 6, Brock Galetich 0 0-0 0, Carter Hewitt 0 0-0 0, Sam Lewis 0 0-0 0, Doran Lutjen 2 3-4 7, Freddie Lewis 0 0-0 0, Kyler Hodnefield 0 0-0 0, Cade Flaugh 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 13-21 73.

Rock Valley 14 19 17 11 — 61

S. Hamilton 18 24 17 14 — 73

3-point field goals — RV 5-16 (Rus 4, Van’t Hul); SH 8-17 (Hill 3, Berg 2, Peters 2, Grove). Rebounds — RV 25, SH 34 (Peters 7, Grove 7, Balvanz 7). Steals — RV 5, SH 2. Assists — RV 8, SH 10 (Peters 3, Grove 3). Turnovers — RV 13, SH 11. Team fouls — RV 20, SH 18. Fouled out — RV: B. Van Kekerix; SH: Grove).