End of a dream

East Marshall’s storybook season comes to a halt against South Hamilton again

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • Members of the East Marshall boys’ basketball team deal with the emotions of a season-ending loss to South Hamilton in Saturday’s Class 2A Substate 7 finals at Nevada High School. The seventh-ranked Mustangs suffered their only loss of the season to the same Hawks team they fell to in last year’s substate round, losing 52-32.

NEVADA — This isn’t the way fairy tales are supposed to end.

East Marshall saw the story develop the way it wanted to, with the same team that had knocked them down before as the only one standing in their way again.

One day short of exactly one year later, the Mustangs suffered the same unbearable fate.

The seventh-ranked East Marshall boys’ basketball team went cold from outside and came up well short of challenging No. 3 South Hamilton with a state tournament berth on the line, falling 52-32 to the Hawks in Saturday’s Class 2A Substate 7 showdown between unbeatens at Nevada High School.

The dream season ended in a nightmare for the Mustangs (22-1), who hung around early but faded away late as the 3-point shot refused to drop while South Hamilton (24-0) cruised along.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE • A capacity crowd watches as East Marshall senior Eli Anderson pump-fakes as South Hamilton’s Cole Berg (5) flies by during the second half of Saturday’s Class 2A Substate 7 title game in Nevada. Anderson scored a layup on the play and finished the night with eight points.

The Hawks, who beat East Marshall 53-51 in the same gymnasium a year ago in the same round of postseason play, picked up their second-straight trip to state by bottling up the Mustangs’ dominant post presence. East Marshall senior Zaine Leedom dropped in 12 points, though only two of them came after halftime as South Hamilton did its best to keep the ball out of the paint.

With the Mustangs struggling to shoot from distance, it allowed the Hawks to continue sagging defensively on the perimeter and helping provide pressure inside and eventually held East Marshall to a season-low scoring output.

“They shot pretty well at the start and we didn’t,” said East Marshall senior Zane Johnson, who added five points. “The turning point in the whole game was shooting. We got a little hesi

tant, which is never good.”

South Hamilton swished three of its first four 3-point tries and ended the night with five triples. East Marshall settled for a frigid 1-for-17 performance from beyond the arc, unable to bring the defenders out to them to create space in the lane for Leedom and Johnson.

Suddenly one-dimensional, the Mustangs couldn’t manage much of a comeback.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“That makes a difference,” shrugged East Marshall coach Adam Bauder of the outside shooting. “We couldn’t change anything, we tried whatever we had on our play sheet, but they’re really good defensively obviously. I honestly thought we’d be able to hit some shots but that didn’t prove to be true so that makes them look a lot better when you’re not hitting.”

Eli Anderson provided the Mustangs’ ready-to-erupt crowd with the only 3-point boost of the night, knocking down a trey with 2:15 left in the first half to bring East Marshall to within 25-20 of the Hawks. A seven-point halftime margin didn’t feel overwhelming for the Mustangs, at least not until nothing dropped through in the third quarter.

South Hamilton outscored East Marshall 8-1 in the third period to turn its advantage into 14, and not even a valiant rally in the final stanza stood much of a chance. The Mustangs forced five turnovers in the last eight minutes and scratched back to within 43-32 before the Hawks collected themselves and started melting seconds and eventually minutes off the clock.

The 3-point shooting remained ice-cold for the Mustangs, and the school’s first state tournament berth since LDF went in 1988 escaped at the hands of South Hamilton for the second year in a row.

“I think this one definitely hurts worse because last year we knew we had a lot of people coming back and we had another chance at it, but now it’s done, that’s it,” said Leedom, who also had a team-high eight rebounds. “This one definitely hurts a little bit more.”

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

Leedom, who transferred in from Grinnell last year, was one of eight seniors on the Mustangs’ roster. After suffering a late slip-up against South Hamilton last February, East Marshall senior point guard Tyler DeBondt couldn’t wait for a second chance.

Twenty-two wins and no losses later, the Mustangs were back in the substate finals against the same squad that stopped them a year earlier.

“I was in Spanish class and I remember seeing that [we might play South Hamilton again] and instantly texting coach Bauder like, ‘heck yes!’ I thought about that. This is the 364th day since that day and I just dreamed, I dreamed that would happen and I’d get another chance because last year we had one shot, I slipped and fell and they ultimately ended up winning the game so that was tough. Then you work all offseason for another chance.

“I dreamt about going to the state tournament since I was like six years old. It’s tough to just let go of a dream.”

The Mustangs put up a fourth-quarter fight by getting some turnovers that got them back within 11, but a technical that accounted for Johnson’s fifth foul with 3:38 left in the game signaled the end to DeBondt.

T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE

“At that point I kind of accepted in my heart that my basketball career was coming to an end,” he said.

South Hamilton scored the game’s final nine points, mostly at the free-throw line, and left with the coveted 2A regional championship banner again.

“I thought that, and maybe that’s stupid, but I thought it was setting up for us to do something special,” said Bauder, “and we did throughout the season, but the end just wasn’t meant to be.”

Anderson ended the night with eight points, DeBondt and Johnson had five apiece and Logan Nicholson, another of the team’s five starting seniors, added two points.

Logan Peters powered South Hamilton early with his sharpshooting and finished the game with a team-leading 16 points. Marco Balderas added 14 more as the Hawks advanced.

South Hamilton 52, East Marshall 32

At Nevada

SOUTH HAMILTON (24-0) — Marco Balderas 4 5-8 14, Cole Berg 3 0-4 6, Logan Peters 6 1-2 16, Logan Klemp 1 0-0 2, Conner Hill 0 4-4 4, Aaron Hegland 0 1-2 1, Carter Hewitt 0 0-0 0, Sam Lewis 0 0-0 0, Quinton Grove 2 0-0 5, Zeke Balderas 0 0-0 0, Cade Balvanz 2 0-0 4, Garrett Grady 0 0-0 0, Cade Flaugh 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 18 11-20 52.

EAST MARSHALL (22-1) — Zaine Leedom 6 0-1 12, Zane Johnson 1 3-6 5, Eli Anderson 3 1-3 8, Tyler DeBondt 1 3-3 5, Logan Nicholson 1 0-0 2, Evan Espenscheid 0 0-0 0, Zach Finders 0 0-1 0, Jimmy Sylvester 0 0-0 0, Cade Curphy 0 0-0 0, Kam Hoskins 0 0-0 0, Cam Hungerford 0 0-0 0, Gage Hulin 0 0-0 0, Brayden Fahrni 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 12 7-14 32.

S. HAMILTON 15 14 8 15 — 52

E. MARSHALL 11 11 1 9 — 32

3-Point Goals–SH 5 (Peters 3, Balderas, Grove), EM 1 (Anderson). Total Fouls–SH 15, EM 17. Intentional Foul–Anderson. Technical Foul–Johnson. Fouled Out–Johnson.