THEY’RE THE BOMB
Ballard handles Clear Lake, punches ticket to state
WEBSTER CITY — In a span of maybe 15 seconds of game time, Ballard sophomore forward Ashton Hermann went from feeling butterflies in his stomach to high-fiving his way down the sideline inside the Webster City High School gymnasium Wednesday night.
He spent the entire evening pushing the Bombers towards the Class 3A state basketball tournament, so it was fitting that he delivered the knockout punch too.
Two free throws, followed by a steal at mid-court and emphatic one-handed dunk by Hermann with 40 seconds remaining ignited the celebration, as Ballard got by North Central Conference champion and 10th-ranked Clear Lake, 65-56, in a substate final.
Hermann’s four-point outburst in the final minute pushed Ballard’s lead to nine and ended any hope Clear Lake (20-4) had of staging a comeback.
“After the free throws I had a little confidence, but after the dunk I knew it was over,” Hermann, who led the Bombers with 21 points, said afterwards. “It’s a crazy feeling right now, but we always have confidence that we’re going to win. We always play like we’re the best team in the state.”
Ballard (18-6), which is 10-1 over its last 11 games, heads back to state for the second straight year and 10th time in program history. The Bombers did it by storming through NCC royalty in the postseason. It began with a rout of Webster City in a substate quarterfinal, followed by an overtime victory over ninth-ranked Algona on the Bulldogs’ home floor in the semifinal round.
Ballard may have been the No. 3 seed in the substate, but it feared no one.
“They put us as a three seed, but we knew all along that we could take any team up here,” Connor Drew, Ballard’s leading scorer on the season, said after he dropped in nine points against Clear Lake. “At the start of the season we had some high goals and high expectations. We knew we could make it happen this year, so it’s nice we did that.”
The Bombers array of weapons was crucial on Wednesday. Drew, a junior, was limited to less than 10 points for just the third time this season, but sophomore center Kale Krogh picked up the slack with 14 points inside the paint. Kade Reinertson, a senior forward, went off for 13 points, nine coming in the first half when Ballard built a 38-30 lead.
And Hermann, well, he was a thorn in Clear Lake’s side all night.
“Everybody is important on our team,” Hermann said. “We have so many different weapons on our team that it’s hard to guard us.”
Drew fouled out with 1:52 remaining, but he never doubted his teammates would be able to finish the job.
“I maybe had a little anxiety, but I trusted in my boys that they’d get it done,” Drew said. “That was the biggest dunk I’ve seen (Hermann) throw down ever. That was crazy.”
Drew’s only 3-pointer of the game from the left corner gave Ballard its first double-digit lead, 43-32, with 6:15 remaining in the third quarter. Clear Lake responded though, as junior forward Andrew Formanek put the Lions on his back with his own seven-point flurry. A three-point play from the right block by Formanek closed the gap to one point, 49-48, with 1:52 left in the period.
“He’s been like that all season for us,” Clear Lake head coach Jeremy Ainley said of Formanek, who poured in 21 points.
But Hermann had the answer in the form of a back cut along the baseline that resulted in a three-point play, and Ballard weathered the storm with a 5-0 run in the final 45 seconds of the third quarter to take a 54-48 advantage into the fourth.
“That was really key because they were probably going to go on a 10- or 12-point run,” Hermann said. “They had all the momentum, so to stop it was huge.”
Clear Lake’s comeback effort took a hit early in the fourth when leaders Carson Toebe and Formanek went down on consecutive plays with leg cramps. Both were forced to the bench, and while they eventually returned, the Lions were unable to make another substantial push.
“Unfortunately we had some untimely cramping,” Ainley said. “But I’m just proud of the fight. We came back, got it to one (in the third quarter) and had a chance, but a couple balls didn’t bounce our way. But when you put yourself in a game like this every year, that’s all you can ask for.”
Jaylen DeVries added 13 points and Toebe finished with 11 for Clear Lake, which won its third consecutive NCC title this winter. The Lions have won at least 20 games in back-to-back seasons, the first time that’s happened in program history.
The Lions were hampered by spotty outside shooting throughout the contest. Ballard outscored Clear Lake 15-6 from behind the arc, as Hermann cashed in on a pair of 3s.
“Our Achilles’ heel all year has been making shots from the outside and unfortunately in the biggest game of the year it really bit us,” Ainley said.
Ballard will be the No. 5 seed and will face fourth-seeded Center Point-Urbana (18-6) in a state quarterfinal next Tuesday in Des Moines.
Ballard 65, Clear Lake 56
Class 3A Substate Final
Wednesday at Webster City
Ballard (18-6) — Mason Murphy 1 1-2 3, Nic Edwards 1 0-0 3, Sam Peterson 1 0-2 2, Kade Reinertson 6 0-0 13, Ashton Hermann 7 5-5 21, Kade Miller 0 0-0 0, Connor Drew 4 0-0 9, Kyler Watson 0 0-0 0, Jacob Ross 0 0-0 0, Jacob Ihle 0 0-0 0, Kale Krogh 7 0-2 14. Totals: 27 6-11 65.
Clear Lake (20-4) — Carson Toebe 4 2-3 11, Jackson Loge 0 0-0 0, Nick Danielson 0 0-0 0, Jack Barragy 1 0-0 3, Andrew Formanek 8 5-6 21, Kody Kearns 2 0-0 4, Jaylen DeVries 4 5-8 13, Eric Ritter 1 0-0 2, Joe Faber 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 12-18 56.
Ballard 19 19 16 11 — 65
Clear Lake 17 13 18 8 — 56
3-point field goals — Ballard 5 (Hermann 2, Edwards, Reinertson, Drew); CL 2 (Toebe, Barragy). Team fouls — Ballard 17, CL 14. Fouled out — Ballard: Drew.