ATLANTIC, Iowa — If you’re looking for flash and dash, Steve Blazek isn’t your guy.
But the Atlantic boys basketball coach’s no-frills style has produced 535 wins. And while Friday’s large crowd likely would have preferred an 81-80 shootout, Blazek loved what transpired: his five guys locking up man-to-man with whomever Creston put on the floor and keeping them under 40 points.
State Class 3-A No. 2 Atlantic found its shooting touch long enough in the second half to create some distance, and went on to defeat No. 5 Creston 47-38, clinching its second straight outright Hawkeye Ten Conference regular-season championship in the process.
“We take pride in what we’re doing at the defensive end,” Blazek said. “And I think you also have to have trust in your teammates to be a good half-court man-to-man defensive team, to know if you’re fronting somebody, they’re going to protect you.”
A reporter-estimated 1,500 watched Atlantic, also fourth in western Iowa (Class 4-A/3-A) by The World-Herald, protect its home court. The Trojans improved to 19-1 overall and concluded league play at 12-1. Creston, also rated fifth in WI, dropped to 17-3 and 10-2.
After the game, the Trojans accepted the championship trophy and posed for photos with it.
“It just means so much, all the hard work that we’ve put in together,” said Atlantic senior Dalton Franken, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. “We were so amped for this game. We just have so much fun playing together, and it’s nice to repeat as Hawkeye Ten champs.”
Despite his offensive output, the 6-6 Franken’s biggest contributions probably came on defense, where he used his sizable strength advantage to frustrate Creston’s leading scorer, 6-6 Colby Taylor. Taylor finished with five points, eight under his average, on 2-of-8 shooting.
Franken has “kind of grown into” his role, Blazek said. “In his earlier years, we kind of protected him because we didn’t want to get him in foul trouble.”
Blazek said the perimeter defense of seniors Sam Markham and Stuart Hoegh also has been a key to the championship run. Hoegh had a game-high 10 rebounds in the win.
The 6-2 Markham, a Drake football recruit, sparked Atlantic in the middle portion of the game. His steal and two-handed power dunk sent the hosts to the intermission with a 21-18 lead. He scored eight of his game-high 14 points in the third, hitting a pair of 3-pointers, as the Trojans took a 36-31 lead to the fourth.
“I think our biggest problem is that our confidence hasn’t always been there,” Markham said. “Once the ball starts falling, I think that we’re going to be a pretty dangerous team.”
Creston got no closer than five in the fourth. One sequence showed the maturity of the Trojans, whose five senior starters — including Harrison Hoegh (seven points, five rebounds) and Chad Christensen (nine points, three steals) — played all but a few seconds.
Leading by just seven with 2:50 remaining, Atlantic worked more than a minute off the clock. Facing a double-team in the post, Franken calmly found Christensen on the weak side, and he buried a 3 for a 10-point lead with 1:35 remaining.
“I think probably our composure the second half on offense, and our ability to force them into taking some really tough shots in the second half, were probably the keys,” Blazek said.
Trey Thomsen and 6-8 reserve Ryan Cook led Creston with nine points each. Panthers coach Billy Hiatt said Atlantic earned the victory.
“Give props to them. They came ready to play,” he said. “They took care of business and they’re well-coached. Hopefully we’ll see them again in the playoffs.”
Friday’s win came one month to the day after the Trojans’ 47-40 win in Creston, which didn’t count in the league standings.
Playing basically five players on Friday, the Trojans showed they’re in top condition.
“If you want something as bad as we wanted this Hawkeye Ten title tonight, getting tired really isn’t an option,” said Franken, a Dordt College recruit.
This story likely isn’t over. They’ll both be heavy first-round district favorites, which could mean a third meeting in a district final on Feb. 21.
“We’re planning on seeing them again,” Markham said. “It’s not over. We just have keep getting better and start playing our best basketball.”
Creston (17-3, 10-2) ................. 9 9 13 7—38
At Atlantic (19-1, 12-1) ................. 10 11 15 11—47
C: Trey Thomsen 4-13 0-0 9, Colby Taylor 2-8 0-0 5, Kainen Somers 0-2 0-0 0, Luke Neitzel 1-6 0-0 2, Briar Evans 3-9 0-0 6, Caleb Thompson 2-3 0-0 4, Ryan Cook 4-6 1-1 9, Zachary Powers 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Phipps 0-0 0-0 0, Cole Thompson 1-1 0-0 3, Cole Crawford 0-0 0-0 0, Jay Wolfe 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-49 1-1 38.
A: Sam Markham 6-13 0-0 14, Chad Christensen 3-10 2-2 9, Stuart Hoegh 1-9 3-4 5, Dalton Franken 5-12 1-2 12, Harrison Hoegh 3-6 1-4 7, Ben Nelson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-50 7-12 47.
3-point goals: C 3-17 (Co. Thompson 1-1, Taylor 1-3, Thomsen 1-5, Neitzel 0-1, Wolfe 0-1, Somers 0-2, Evans 0-4), A 4-18 (Markham 2-5, Franken 1-3, Christensen 1-5, S. Hoegh 0-5). Total fouls: C 12, A 8. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. Rebounds: C 33 (Thomsen 6, Neitzel 6, Evans 6), A 30 (S. Hoegh 10). Assists: C 9 (Neitzel 6), A 9 (Christensen 3). Steals: C 1 (Neitzel), A 10 (Markham 3, Christensen 3, S. Hoegh 3). Turnovers: C 16, A 8.
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