Tremendous resiliency enabled the Ballard boys’ basketball team endure a challenging second half of the regular season to reach its full potential in 2018-19.
Ballard had a strong start derailed by untimely injuries and illnesses after Christmas break. But a determined senior class helped the Bombers weather the storm to reach state for the first time since 2005.
“We came together as a team and learned how to handle adversity,” Ballard head boys’ basketball coach Chris Deason said. “These are skills that will help our kids for a lifetime. On the court, we just kept getting better at the defensive end as the season progressed, so that was exciting.”
The Bombers finished 15-10 overall. They placed fifth in the Raccoon River Conference with a 7-7 conference mark.
Ballard started the season looking like a contender for the RRC title. The Bombers won eight of their first 10 games.
The season opener showed how good the Bombers could be. They defeated eventual Class 3A state runner-up Norwalk, 69-66.
The Norwalk victory was followed by close losses to Adel-Desoto-Minburn (59-54) and Pella (60-53). But then the Bombers won seven straight.
On Dec. 7 Ballard edged Boone, 47-43. Four days later, the Bombers earned another four-point win, defeating Dallas Center-Grimes by a 57-53 score.
Ballard picked up decisive wins over Bondurant-Farrar (61-47), Nevada (65-36) and Carlisle (72-46) heading into Christmas break.
In their first games after the break, the Bombers whipped Perry (64-19) then earned a big 72-60 victory over a Gilbert team that was ranked in the top 10 in 3A. In the win over Perry, the Bombers set a school record for fewest points allowed in a game, and also held the Bluejays to the lowest opposing field-goal percentage for a game at 16.6 percent.
On Jan 8, Ballard faced another ranked team in Carroll. This time the Bombers let a late lead get away as their winning streak was snapped with a 73-61 setback.
Winterset, the eventual third-place finisher at state in 3A, downed Ballard by a 72-53 score on Jan. 11. This marked the final game for senior forward Kegan Odden, who missed the rest of the season with a broken kneecap.
Nic Edwards hit two clutch free throws to help Ballard knock off ADM in two overtimes, 63-61, on Jan. 18. But Edwards was lost to a broken ankle shortly after that.
Illness also hit Ballard during this time period. The mounting health problems made it tough for Ballard to find a good rhythm and play at a consistent level.
The Bombers fell at Boone, 49-44, defeated Bondurant-Farrar by a 58-43 score, lost at Carlisle in a high-scoring 85-77 affair and cruised at Perry by 70-36 margin. Ballard then dropped its final two RRC games to Carroll (55-48) and Winterset (66-56).
The regular season came to a close against traditional rival North Polk. The Bombers started to get back into a bit of a groove against the Comets, prevailing by a 57-49 decision.
Ballard opened 3A substate play Feb. 18 at home against Knoxville. The Bombers cruised, 79-60.
Three days later, Ballard received a good fight from Bondurant-Farrar in the semifinals, but held on to win a 47-39 defensive battle. That set up a rematch with Pella in the substate final for the right to go to state.
The Bombers put it all together at exactly the right time. They punched their ticket to state by knocking off the No. 6 team in 3A in convincing fashion, 73-57.
At state, Ballard ran into a buzzsaw in a rematch with Norwalk. The Bombers were overpowered, 81-39, in the 3A quarterfinals to end the season.
“Obviously a very special season whenever you finish at the state tournament,” Deason said. “The run at the end of the season; beating Pella handily in the substate game was a tremendous night. The state tournament experience was obviously a huge highlight. Being able to take the floor at Wells Fargo with a group of guys who have always dreamed about playing there was overwhelming.”
Ballard averaged 59.7 points, shooting 44 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and 65 percent from the line. The Bombers made 132 3-point field goals and averaged 14.2 assists against 11.5 turnovers per game — setting a school mark for total assists in a season with 356.
“I thought overall it would have been nice to shoot the ball a little better,” Deason said. “We shot a low percentage from the free-throw line and from the 3-point line. We shot it well from two-point range at 52 percent.”
The biggest strength for Ballard was its defense. The Bombers gave up 55.4 points per game and only allowed teams to shoot 38-percent from the field, while forcing 11.3 turnovers per game.
We held our opponents to 38-percent shooting for the season — that is fantastic,” Deason said. ”We also outrebounded our opponents on the season.” The Bombers outrebounded teams by a 33.2-31.9 average.
Sophomores Connor Drew and Mason Murphy set the tone for Ballard on offense. They were surrounded by a tremendous group of six seniors that complemented them well on offense and anchored the team defensively.
Drew averaged 17.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks at center. He shot 50 percent from the floor, 60 percent from the line and made 12 3-pointers.
Murphy ran the point, averaging 8.0 points, 4.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds. He shot 41 percent from the field and 74 percent from the line.
Seniors Max Olsan and Chase Winterboer were Ballard’s top outside shooting threats.
Olsan averaged 11.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He shot 46 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line, and converted 42 3-pointers at a 38-percent clip.
Winterboer made a team-high 49 3-pointers and averaged 7.5 points, 3.1 assists, 30 rebounds and a team-best 1.3 steals.
Odden and fellow senior Isaiah Deason were versatile weapons at forward.
Odden averaged 6.0 points and 4.0 rebounds and shot 56 percent from the field. Isaiah put up 5.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, shooting 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range.
Senior Reece Huen was a defensive stopper on the perimeter at guard. Huen averaged 2.8 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists and shot a team-best 85 percent from the line.
Freshman Kale Krogh, junior Henry Thompson and senior Seth Wohlgemuth each played in 14 games, junior Drake Wunder was in 12 and and Edwards 10.
Krogh put up 3.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, Thompson 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds and Wohlgemuth 1.1 points per game. Wunder totaled 12 points and Edwards scored seven.
Freshman Ashton Hermann got in eight games, sophomore Kade Miller six, junior Joe Fletcher two and sophomore Kyler Watson one.
The departing senior class leaves an outstanding legacy — being the group to lead Ballard back to state.
“The six seniors we graduate have been awesome,” Chris Deason said. “They have given of their time and talents to this program in a huge way and they have been amazing players and leaders for us.”
“It is a special group for me, as I have been involved with their growth since a very young age,” Chris Deason said. “This group’s legacy will be a combination of great on-court achievements, as well as off-court achievements. On the court, career achievements include, (as a group): 1,404 points, 632 rebounds, 348 assists, 155 steals and 23 blocks. Off the court achievements include: an average GPA of 3.71, average ACT score of 23.5 and 1,891 service hours to our school and community.”
But with Drew and Murphy returning to lead the way, the future is bright for the Bombers.
“Starting two sophomores and playing two freshman, as well as a handful of juniors, is a good sign for us,” Chris Deason said. “Our JV was 17-3 and our freshmen were 16-4. We like what we have coming up.”