Going for it all: Ballard boys hope third trip to state ends with a championship

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Ballard's 'Run AMC' trio of Mason Murphy, Connor Drew, and Ashton Hermann are ready to lead No. 1 Ballard into the boys' state basketball tournament next week. The Bombers are the top seed in Class 3A and face Clear Lake on Tuesday in what they hope is the first step toward a state championship at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Ballard is hoping the third time will be a charm when it enters Wells Fargo Arena for the boys’ state basketball tournament Tuesday in Des Moines. 

The Bombers qualified for the state tournament each of the past two years. They were defeated by Norwalk in the quarterfinals two years ago and placed fourth in Class 3A last season. 

Making it to Des Moines twice was a fun experience for seniors Connor Drew and Mason Murphy. Now they want to be the last team standing. 

“We’ve worked all four years for this,” Drew said. “I just want to play hard for everyone on my team and get the ring. That’s the goal.” 

Ballard (23-1) enters state on a 19-game winning streak. The Bombers are the No. 1 seed in 3A and will face eighth-seed Clear Lake (22-2) in the quarterfinals. 

“They’re similar to us in a number of ways,” Ballard head coach Jeff Schertz said. “We’re playing well and they’re obviously playing well too. We’re excited about the opportunity.” 

Ballard defeated Clear Lake in the substate finals last year, 65-56, to qualify for state. The Lions bring back a talented tandem from that team in 6-6 forward Andrew Formanek and 6-3 guard Carson Tobe. 

Formanek is averaging a double-double at 17.8 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. He is also shooting at a strong 57 % clip from the field and has some range with 12 3-pointers. 

More:Bomber girls will their way to 4A championship; defense carries Ballard past DC-G in semis

Tobe leads Clear Lake in scoring with an average of 18.9 points and he also contributes 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. Tobe is dangerous from outside with 69 3-pointers on the season. 

Eric Ritter, a 6-6 senior, is a nice role player inside for the Lions. He averages 8.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. 

Junior Joe Faber averages 5.8 points and sophomore Travaughn Luyoba 4.8 to go along with 5.6 assists. Junior Jagger Schmitt is also a regular varsity contributor, averaging 4.3 points. 

Ballard will counter with the talented ‘Run AMC’ trio of junior Ashton Hermann, Murphy and Drew.  

Hermann averages 15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He’s shooting 50% from the field and is extremely disruptive on defense with 3.5 steals per game. 

Murphy runs the show for Ballard. He’s picked up his scoring this season, averaging 11.9 points, and is also Ballard’s all-time assist leader — averaging 4.8 dimes. 

Drew is a 6-7 combo forward. He made all-state last season and is averaging 15.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists. 

Drew is shooting 52% from the field and 35 % from 3-point range. 

All three members of ‘Run AM’ have good range. Murphy has made 31 3-pointers, Hermann 29 and Drew 26. 

But as talented as those three players are, it’s the Bombers’ depth that gives them a big edge over Clear Lake. 

“We’ve got eight or nine guys that can really play,” Murphy said. “There’s no these guys come off the bench and there’s a little letdown. Everyone is solid.” 

Kale Krogh is Ballard’s fourth returning starter from last year. At 6-7 and around 260 pounds he gives Ballard a second big body to bang around inside and is averaging 7.4 points on outstanding 74 % accuracy from the field along with 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. 

Senior Isaiah Peasley moved into the fifth starting spot and leads Ballard in 3-pointers with 45 at 44 % accuracy from long range. Peasley is averaging 6.4 points and 2.5 rebounds. 

Sam Petersen is a senior leader off the bench. He came up with eight big points along with two assists and steals apiece in Ballard’s 66-57 substate final win over Bondurant-Farrar last Monday and is averaging 3.9 points and 1.4 assists. 

Kade Miller gives Ballard a third 6-7 body in the low post. Miller has emerged as a big contributor this year, averaging 3.6 points and 2.8 rebounds. 

“All three of us big guys are clicking down low,” Drew said. “We have the guards to feed us and if we get double or triple-teamed inside we’re going to kick it out.” 

Junior Jacob Ihle has been a steady performer all season, averaging 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.  

“If we were to sit there and list everybody’s top guys we’d be right there and have a great conversation about them, but if you go beyond our starting lineup I really like what the guys that get major minutes off the bench do,” Schertz said. “It goes beyond that in practice too. We’ve got eight other guys that don’t get a whole of playing time right now that are doing a great job in practice giving us looks. I think our depth is one of our strengths for sure.” 

Should the Bombers advance past Clear Lake they will face either fourth seed Dallas Center-Grimes (20-3) or fifth seed Davenport Assumption (18-6). Ballard defeated DC-G, 66-55, in Grimes in its final game of the regular season. 

On the other side of the bracket traditional powerhouse Pella (22-2) is the second seed and Western Dubuque (18-4) is third seed.  

Ballard’s only loss this year was to a top-five Carroll team by one point in overtime back in early December (59-58). The Bombers have since beaten Carroll by 18 on the Tigers home floor and their closest game during the 19-game win streak was the substate final win over Bondurant-Farrar. 

As dominant as the Bombers have been over the past three months, they know they will be in for some battles this week if they are to emerge with a state championship trophy.  

Ballard scrimmaged an Ames team that is headed to state in 4A over winter break to get a good look at elite competition. The Bombers players said they learned a lot going up against the outstanding talent possessed by Tamin Lipsey, Trevion LaBeaux, Keyshaun Brooks, Corey Phillips and rest of the Little Cyclones. 

“They were really athletic,” Hermann said. “They’re a really tough team and they’re really clicking right now. It’s good seeing that kind of competition and their athleticism because we could see that at ‘The Well’.” 

Ballard and Clear Lake will tip off Tuesday at 2 p.m.