Mustangs brace for déjà vu vs. Hawks

Seventh-ranked East Marshall set for substate final showdown against No. 3 South Hamilton


East Marshall head boys’ basketball coach Adam Bauder emerged from the Roundhouse locker room with a portable dry-erase board in tow.

It read only one thing: “#unfinishedbusiness.”

The hashtag the Mustangs have used across all social media platforms since Feb. 25, 2017, delivers a clear message to his players, one he barely needs to mention to motivate them. The only thing on East Marshall’s minds for almost exactly one year has been a 53-51 loss to South Hamilton in the Class 2A substate finals.

The quest of getting to state stalled out one play short of a trip to Des Moines last winter, but the Mustangs have maneuvered themselves back to within a win of their first trip to state since LDF advanced to Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1988.

Standing in their way? South Hamilton, of course. And in the same venue as last year’s heartbreaking loss.

Seventh-ranked East Marshall (22-0) meets No. 3 South Hamilton (23-0) in tonight’s Class 2A Substate 7 championship game at 7 p.m. inside Nevada High School, as the two teams showdown for the second consecutive season with a state tournament berth hanging in the balance.

Déjà vu, anyone?

“Unfinished business means we’ve got to get back at it and get ready to face another undefeated team,” East Marshall senior Zaine Leedom said after Tuesday’s 56-39 win over West Marshall in the district finals at the Roundhouse. “[South Hamilton’s] going to come out strong, we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for that and once we get that [goal] we can move onto the next step. Right now we’ve got that goal of just making it [to state] but once we get that we’ll just keep moving.

“It’s definitely left a sour taste in my mouth and I’m sure the rest of the team, too. It definitely pushes us in practice, we all have that in the back of our minds.”

The Mustangs would love to forget about losing possession of the basketball in a tie game inside the final 15 seconds of last year’s substate game, especially after a pair of go-ahead free throws by Marco Balderas accounted for the final margin, but it’s also a part of what got East Marshall back to this point.

Since losing to the Hawks nearly a year ago, the Mustangs have gone undefeated. They unseated five-time reigning champion Gladbrook-Reinbeck atop the NICL West Division with a perfect 12-0 record. Their streak of 22 wins in a row nearly matches that of South Hamilton, which went to state and fell to eventual champion Western Christian in last year’s 2A quarterfinals.

Just like the Mustangs, the Hawks have designs of going farther than they did last year, which makes tonight’s clash one for the ages.

“As a coach you try as hard as you can to ‘trust the process’ … and if you can do that, that’s a really mature thing to be able to do,” said East Marshall head coach Adam Bauder “We’re not worried about end results, we’re worried about through the whole season taking care of business in the very moment that you’re in — but they’ve had this thing in the back of their head and they want this.

“We’re never going to talk about [last year] — they lost a really good player but they reloaded and I think they’re more complete of a team.”

South Hamilton ranks 16th in 2A averaging 65.1 points per game and 12th defensively at 46.8 points allowed per contest. East Marshall ranks 34th (60.9) and third (41.1), respectively, with an added emphasis on defense this season.

The Hawks lost Collin Hill to graduation, head coach Nathan Hill’s son who scored nearly 1,500 points in a three-year career, but not much else. South Hamilton returns their other four starters, keyed at the point by Balderas and his 14.5 points per game. Conner Hill averages 13.6 points, Logan Peters adds 12 a night, and Cole Berg chips in 11.4 per contest.

East Marshall will counter with its four returning starters, having lost Dru Boliver to graduation. Leedom leads the way at 16.1 points per game, Zane Johnson gets 15.5 points a night, Tyler DeBondt adds 10.1 and Logan Nicholson contributes 5.8.

Fellow senior Eli Anderson pitches in 5.1 points per game as the addition to the starting lineup, and his then-career-high 12 points against South Hamilton played a pivotal role in the Mustangs challenging for last year’s substate title.

“It looks like we’re very even and we like to do the same things,” Bauder said. “I think it’ll be a game of attrition. It’s going to be a defensive battle, as to who’s going to stay in the right mindset and not get frustrated by those types of things and who can knock down some shots.

“We’re hoping to flip the script.”