Bomber boys had historic run in 2020-2021: Ballard reaches state title game for the first time
The Ballard boys’ basketball team may have fallen painfully short of its ultimate goal, but nothing can take away from its record-setting season.
The Bombers followed up last year’s fourth-place finish at state in Class 3A by going 25-2 and reaching the state championship game. The Bombers tied Carroll for the Raccoon River Conference title with a 17-1 record.
“It was arguably the best season in Ballard history,” Ballard head coach Jeff Schertz said. “Taking nothing away from teams in the past, but these guys set the bar.”
Ballard’s only loss in the regular season came to a top-five Carroll team by one point (59-58) at home on Dec. 18. Prior to that loss Ballard defeated Norwalk (71-46), Adel-Desoto-Minburn (59-55 in overtime), Bondurant-Farrar (79-54) and Carlisle (76-38).
The Bombers had Carroll beaten before letting the game slip away.
They regrouped to crush Kuemper Catholic the very next day (87-49). That victory ignited a school-record 21-game winning streak that carried Ballard all the way to the 3A state championship game against Pella.
“The biggest key was our growth as players,” Schertz said. “Our trust in each other, our improved skills, maturity and the knowledge and experience of what it takes put us in position to reach the ultimate goal.”
During the streak Ballard won every game by double figures except two. Those single-digit victories both came by nine points in the postseason – nine-point wins over Bondurant-Farrar in the substate finals (66-57) and Davenport Assumption in the state semifinals (74-65).
After the Kuemper Catholic win Ballard swept Gilbert (76-39 and 84-38), North Polk (81-55 and 71-36), Winterset (80-60 and 69-58), Perry (90-9 and 90-20) and Boone (70-35 and 64-47). The Bombers also got another win over A-D-M (65-51), Bondurant-Farrar (70-35) and Carlisle (57-34).
The biggest Bomber victories of the regular season came in the rematch with Carroll and a non-conference bout with No. 3 Dallas Center-Grimes Feb. 18 in Grimes.
The Bombers traveled to Carroll Jan. 29 and thumped the Tigers, 56-38. They ended the regular season with a 66-55 victory over DC-G Feb. 18.
As big as those victories were, nothing stood out more for Ballard than the support the team and community gave to the younger brother of all-state starter Ashton Hermann. Hermann’s younger brother Jaxon had to go into the Children’s Hospital at Omaha, Neb. in early February for a heart operation – which he is still recovering from.
“A big highlight was the way our guys rallied around the Hermann family,” Schertz said. “It elevated Ashton during the long stretch of dealing with his brother's situation.”
Ballard opened substate play by crushing Saydel, 73-19. In the semifinals the Bombers defeated Gilbert for the third time, 79-45, to set up its clash with Bondurant-Farrar in the finals.
After surviving the scare from Bondurant-Farrar to qualify for state the Bombers took on Clear Lake in the 3A state quarterfinals. The Bombers defeated the Lions in the regional finals last year and they dominated them in the rematch, advancing to the semifinals with a 68-45 victory.
Ballard got past Assumption and Texas recruit Emarion Ellis in the semifinals to set up their confrontation with Pella in the 3A championship game. The Bombers hung tough the whole way against the Dutch, but they could never get over the hump in a heartbreaking 78-69 setback to end their dreams of the first state title in school history.
The loss was painful to a team that had survived dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and the situation with Jaxon Hermann to put it all together only to fall one win short of the title. But after a few days to reflect on the season it could only be described as a resounding success.
“It is the best finish in Ballard history,” Schertz said. “My take is that it was a great, fun and a stressful season all at the same time. COVID-19 presented a unique feeling of playing every game like it was your last. I am really proud of our guys for the way they handled masks, new weird rules and procedures. They were committed to doing whatever it takes for us to have a complete and successful season.”
Ballard set several team and individual records.
The Bombers gave up the fewest points (44.7 per game) and held opposing teams to the lowest field-goal percentage (34.7 %) in school history. On offense Ballard made the most field goals made and attempted in a season by converting 745 of 1,499 (49.7 %)
The Bombers also set the single-game mark for victory margin (81 points), lowest field-goal percentage allowed (14.3 %) and steals (27).
Individually, Connor Drew became Ballard’s all-time leading scorer (1,618 points) and rebounder (796). Mason Murphy finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in assists (393).
Kale Krogh set the season record for best field-goal percentage at 71.7 % and Ashton Hermann had the most steals in a game at 11.
Drew and Hermann were both all-state picks in 3A for Ballard. Drew was honored for the second year in a row.
Drew ended his final season averaging 15.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He shot 51.4 % from the field, 31.2 % from 3-point range and 62.2 % from the line and made 27 3-pointers.
Hermann put up 16.2 points, 3.3 steals, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He also shot 51.4 % from the field, made 35 3-pointers at a 30.7 % rate and converted 73.3 % of his free throws.
Murphy was a first-team all-RRC performer.
Murphy averaged 11.8 points and 5.1 assists. He made 35 3-pointers and shot 48 % from the field and 38 % from 3-point range.
Krogh was also an all-RRC performer. He averaged 7.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists.
Senior Isaiah Peasley stepped up to hit 48 3-pointers on 44 % accuracy and he averaged 6.0 points and 1.6 assists. Senior Sam Petersen was a defensive stopper off the bench who averaged 4.3 points and 1.5 assists.
Kade Miller gave Ballard a third 6-7 player alongside Drew and Krogh. Miller shot 56 % from the field and averaged 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds.
Junior Jacob Ihle was a jack-of-all-trades guy that averaged 3.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.1 steals. Juniors Colby Calvert and Bryce Haessig averaged 2.6 and 1.9 points respectively.
Drew, Murphy, Peasley, Petersen and Miller along with Sam Upah and Kyler Watson had a tremendous run as seniors. After these seniors went 9-13 their freshman year they were 59-20 over their last three seasons and tied a school record with three-straight trips to state.
“Our seniors raised the bar,” Schertz said. “It’s that simple.”
Ballard will be expected to drop off a bit next season. But with the return of Hermann, Krogh and other promising youngsters it won’t be that much as the Bombers still have the potential to win a conference title and qualify for state in 2021-2022.
“We have a few major minute guys returning that will carry us at times,” Schertz said. “We will be competitive. We will be much better at the end of the year than at the beginning. We will have less proven depth to start the year but have nice pieces that I am excited about getting a chance to prove it in a new role or on the varsity level for the first time.”