Dedication paid off for the Ballard boys’ basketball program in 2013-14 as a young Bomber team overcame a ton of inexperience to turn in another winning season.
Ballard entered the season with only two returning letterwinners off last year’s 16-7 team. But several junior varsity players that had been biding their time stepped up big, and Ballard also had a number of younger players come on to make valuable contributions at the varsity level.
The end result was a 14-7 campaign that saw Ballard take second in the Raccoon River Conference with an 11-3 record.
"The biggest key was the time our guys put in during the offseason," Ballard head coach Chris Deason said. "This group decided they wanted to be successful and they were willing to put in the time for it."
The Bombers started off the season by splitting their first games.
They were overwhelmed by Norwalk in their opener (67-48). The Bombers then won at Boone and at home versus Iowa Falls-Alden (67-46 and 72-61 respectively), lost at Pella in a 65-59 battle, defeated Perry in a 67-30 rout and fell at home to a powerful Dallas Center-Grimes squad by a 78-58 margin.
The Bombers scored a 66-59 win at Adel-Desoto-Minburn in their final game before the Christmas break, then whipped Woodward Academy by a 69-46 score in their first game back from break. A ranked Carroll squad handed Ballard a 76-69 road loss on Jan. 7, but the Bombers came back to topple Bondurant-Farrar at home, 71-59, and win at Winterset by a 68-48 margin.
Carlisle upset Ballard by a 63-57 score in Huxley on Jan. 17. That setback proved to be a big wakeup call.
The Bombers went on to win six of their final seven games to close out the regular season.
They whipped Boone (65-39), won a 64-63 squeaker at Perry and handled ADM by a 74-64 score before losing at Bondurant-Farrar by a 73-59 margin on Feb. 7. Ballard bounced back to take out Winterset at home, 58-49, crush Carlisle on the road, 68-48, and upset then No. 7 Carroll, 69-61.
"I think we really grew in three areas," Deason said. "We became a good rebounding team and we became a good shooting team as the season wore on. We also became a better passing team."
Ballard opened 3A district competition with an 82-63 victory over Greene County at Carroll on Feb. 24. That set up a rubber game with Carroll for the district championship Feb. 27 at Jefferson.
The first three quarters saw Ballard overcome a slow start to stay with the Tigers. But the Bombers fell apart late in a 72-50 loss to end the season.
"With only two returning letterwinners, we came within six points of a conference title and we managed to go 8-2 at home, defeat two ranked teams (Carroll and Bondurant-Farrar) and we never lost two games in a row the entire season," Deason said. "We always talk about how our goal is to get better every day and we definitely accomplished that goal. The growth this team showed from our jamboree at the beginning of the season until our last game was astronomical."
Ballard averaged 64.8 points per game, shooting 42 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and 69 percent from the line. The Bombers also averaged 10.6 assists against 12.6 turnovers per night.
Defensively, Ballard held foes to 58.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field. The Bombers forced 14.2 turnovers per game and they also posted a 33.4-31.3 per game rebounding advantage.
Senior guards Mason Jensen and Jacob Nethers were the two returning letterwinners for Ballard. Both players went on to make the all-RRC first team.
Jensen had a banner year as the Bombers’ go-to guy. A unanimous choice to the all-RRC first team, Jensen was among the top five scorers in all of 3A and he led 3A in free-throw attempts per game.
For the season Jensen averaged 20.6 points, shooting 47 percent from the field, 32 percent from 3-point range and 69 percent from the line. He made 25 3-pointers and 120 free throws on the season.
Jensen also led Ballard in assists and steals – averaging 3.4 and 1.7 respectively. He was a good rebounding guard as well, averaging 5.3 per game.
Nethers set Ballard records for consecutive free throws made (31) and free-throw percentage in a season (86 percent). He was also Ballard’s top 3-point shooter, making 39 shots from behind the arc at a 38-percent clip.
Nethers averaged 10.4 points per game shooting 42 percent overall from the field. He also pulled down 2.4 rebounds, dished out 2.3 assists and came away with 1.1 steals per game.
Forwards Nick Hartman and Mason Edwards were two other major contributors as seniors. They bided their time over the first three years of their career before stepping into the varsity limelight and becoming big contributors this season.
Hartman was a second-team all-RRC choice. He averaged 7.8 points, shooting 49 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line and was Ballard’s leading rebounder with an average of 7.8 per game.
Edwards averaged 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. He shot 51 percent from the field, made nine 3-pointers and tallied 1.0 steal per game.
Sophomores Kolby Jensen and Jaden Moody were the top underclassman performers for the Bombers.
Kolby earned second-team all-RRC recognition. He averaged 8.2 points, shooting 35 percent from the field, 67 percent from the line and converting 18 3-pointers.
Kolby also finished second to his brother in assists with an average of 2.5 and he tacked on 1.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
Moody averaged 5.2 points shooting 40 percent from the field and 68 percent from the line. He made 11 3-pionters and also tallied 2.6 rebounds per game.
Juniors Nathan Carlin and Cole Wilson, and seniors Tanner Petersen and Chase Seibert saw limited varsity action for Ballard. Carlin averaged 1.7 points, Wilson 1.4, Petersen 1.1 and Seibert 0.7.
Next season Ballard will have to reload once again with the loss of Mason Jensen, Nethers, Hartman, Edwards, Petersen and Seibert.
"This senior class did a great job of moving our program forward," Deason said. "They proved that if you want to be good at something, you just need to put in the time and get the repetitions. This group improved as much in four years as any group I’ve had in the past 15 years. I am very thankful for their time and efforts. They will be missed."
But there are plenty of reasons to still be optimistic about the possibility of another winning campaign in 2014-15.
"We are very excited about next year as we feel our JV guys have taken a big step this season," Deason said. "We have a large group of kids who are excited about playing basketball and getting better during the offseason."