NOW OR NEVER: Veteran Hawks out to end 23-year state tourney drought

WEBSTER CITY – Matt Hislop is all about energy from the opening tip to the final horn. And if he can sell a foul call or two with his demonstrative facial expressions when he drives the lane, well, all the better.

The South Hamilton senior point guard lives to win, and at this point in the season he knows his team has to win.

For Hislop and six of the seven other players that make up the Hawks’ primary rotation there is no “next game” if they lose.

“We’re hungry. We want this now,” Hislop said after practice on Wednesday when his team began preparations for Saturday’s Class 2A substate final against Fort Dodge St. Edmond at Webster City High School. The tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Freshman phenom Collin Hill is the only non-senior who sees ample court time for South Hamilton (20-3), which enters the substate on a 13-game winning streak. The veteran group – Hill may be a rookie, but he’s probably played more basketball than his teammates during the offseason – will attempt to lead the Hawks to the state tournament for the first time in 23 years.

They’ll face a St. Edmond group that knows all about the big stage under the guidance of future Hall of Fame coach Adolph Kochendorfer. The Gaels have played in more than half of the last 13 state tournaments and own nine trips since the Hawks last made it in 1991.

The Gaels (17-6) have a state championship under Kochendorfer in 2000, as well as four state runner-up trophies (2004, 2006, 2008, 2012).

“They’ve obviously tasted success and they know what it’s like,” Hislop, who averages 14.3 points and 5.5 assists per game, said. “They have great athletes and they’re very well-coached. So we expect them to bring it.”

St. Edmond tripped up South Hamilton, 57-53, when the two teams met on Dec. 21 in Jewell. That fact may very well work in the Hawks’ favor though.

“We’ve had an opportunity to play every team that’s beat us this year, so we’re looking forward to it,” South Hamilton head coach B.J. Terrones said. “It’s a team we know a lot about and we’re familiar with their style.”

The Hawks other two losses came at the hands of PCM and North Polk – setbacks they avenged later in the season. Can they do it one more time?

“Every game we lost we’ve felt like we should have gotten that one,” Hislop said. “The big thing is we have to make sure that we can fix our mistakes.”

The mistakes in the first meeting included not paying enough attention to 6-foot-5 senior forward Konrad Laufersweiler, who drained 10 of 16 field goals – he was 3 of 3 outside the arc – and scored 30 points for the Gaels. He has fit well into the supporting role all season behind 6-6 senior center Robby Burke, who leads St. Edmond in scoring (22.2) and rebounding (12.5).

“The last time we played them I thought Drew (Wintermote) did a great job matching up with Robby Burke,” Terrones said. “But stopping their second scorer is going to be a focus for us.”

Laufersweiler averages 12.1 points and 8.3 boards per game. Matthew Bocken (8.7 ppg) and Landon Peed (8.4) are outside threats if left unattended.

South Hamilton’s month-long string of success has been keyed by its guards, and the addition of the 6-4 Hill to the roster this season gave the Hawks just what they needed to reach the top of the Heart of Iowa Conference.

Hill can shoot from the outside. He can drive and get to the rim. He’s quick. He can leap out of a building. And, oh by the way, he’s the team’s best defender as well.

“(Hill) is living up to the expectations that we have had for him and those expectations that he had for himself,” Terrones said. “He’s so mature at a young age and he’s able to do things for teammates that really makes us successful as a basketball team.”

Hill enters the biggest game of his career averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game to go along with 5.6 boards a night. Just as impressive – he’s turned the ball over only 29 times all season while helping Hislop and fellow guard Trevor Ullestad with the ball-handling duties.

Ullestad completes the Hawks’ backcourt trio; he averages 13.3 points per game.

The defensive burden in the paint against Burke with fall on the shoulders of Wintermote (9.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and Zach Puls (4.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg).