A-P boys ready for unbeaten Hawks

PARKERSBURG – This year's senior class for Aplington-Parkersburg boys basketball was along for the ride three years ago when the Falcons made it to state.


Though they didn't dress, they saw a Falcons team come together and have fun en route to a fourth-place finish.


As seniors, the Falcons are excited to make their own memories.


The journey begins in a 2A quarterfinal against undefeated South Hamilton at 6:30 p.m. on Monday.


"We just need to play our game and relax," A-P senior Alec Oberhauser said. "We've come out tight some games, but this has been all nine of ours' goal to get down there for a title and I think we can win it, we all think we can."


The Hawks will be a tough first test. South Hamilton is one of two remaining undefeated 2A teams at 24-0, reaching the state field for the second-consecutive season with a 52-32 victory over previously-undefeated East Marshall in the substate final. South Hamilton also won a 16-minute exhibition over A-P in the preseason, 33-29.


Four South Hamilton players average 10 or more points per game, led by Marco Balderas at 14.5 points per game. Conner Hill (13.2), Logan Peters (12.2) and Cole Berg (11.2) will keep A-P's defense honest, in addition to a 37-percent average from beyond the 3-point line.


"They're extremely quick and guard-dominant," A-P head coach Aaron Thomas said. "They play great man-to-man defense and bring great help to pressure the ball so we'll have to be strong with the basketball and not turn it over … we have to get points in the paint, and shoot the ball with confidence from the perimeter."


The Falcons practiced at UNI on Friday to get a sense for the different shooting perspective that the big-arena setting of Wells Fargo brings.


The other aspects of big-time games should be fresh in the Falcons mind as hundreds filled the stands for last Monday's substate final with Garner-Hayfield-Ventura.


"That atmosphere was crazy," Falcon senior Grant Truax said. "Obviously, the Well is a bigger arena but we've got to take it all in and just focus on the game – it's just another basketball game."


A-P's loss to Class 1A Dunkerton, as the lone blemish on A-P's record and a loss that interrupted a 14-game winning streak, was a natural turning point to re-focus the Falcons for the final push to Wells Fargo Arena.


"Maybe we were too confident going into that one. Sometimes you get that taste in your mouth and you realize you don't want to experience that again," Thomas said. "The way we responded after that was a momentum change."


The change was fully realized in how A-P responded to its most recent test against G-H-V, leading by 20 points after three quarters only to have to hold off a frantic comeback from G-H-V to hold on for the win.


"We didn't have panic or doubt and we made enough plays and got enough stops where we won," Thomas said. "And we learned from that that we have to be aggressive and stay active."


In terms of fine-tuning their preparation, Thomas said he was fortunate to have a deep enough crew to provide the Falcon starters with a good look of what to expect on Monday.


"They're very important," A-P senior Coby Hoff added with regard to the scout team. "They're good at the situational stuff, go hard every day and can run the other team's offense and defense perfectly."


It's Thomas' goal to make sure that those guys that are running with the starters on the practice squad get their own chance at playing on the court in the Well, as was the case with this year's group tagging along with the 2015 fourth-place team.


"I saw how much fun they had and how the community supports them and that meant a lot to me," Hoff said.


Truax sees a lot of similarities between the road the 2015 team took to state and this year's squad.


"They endured a loss to a 1A team, too," Truax said. "It came down to a rebound in OT in the Treynor game that year, and that shows how much the little things matter and you have to be focused 100 percent of the time. … We're going down there on a mission."


As someone who's experienced the state tournament as a player and a coach, Thomas thinks this team will be ready to go on Monday evening.


"The biggest thing is confidence," Thomas said. "Just go out and play hard, which you should have to do anyway if you want to play well. We just need to be confident in what we do."