REINBECK - South Tama's boys basketball team dropped a pair of North Iowa Cedar League West Division games in similar fashion over the weekend.
On Friday, the STC Trojans hung tough on the road at AGWSR and led late in the third quarter, but couldn't get over the hump after losing the lead during the final seven minutes. On Saturday, the Trojans fell behind during the second quarter but stayed within striking distance of Gladbrook-Reinbeck for the remainder of the game. However, the Trojans couldn't close the gap as they lost their fifth-straight game.
"Last night and tonight were kind of carbon copies," coach Lonnie Hammond said. "Last night, I said it was three areas and tonight I called them criticals. We missed some free throws both nights. We had some critical turnovers. Last night, we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds. Tonight, we didn't give up as many, but unfortunately they came at really bad times."
South Tama senior Sam Kuhter scores an uncontested layup Saturday in Reinbeck.
"The kids played hard both nights," he said. "They were getting down on the floor and they were getting after it. I can't ask them to play harder."
Saturday's game was another one where South Tama played one of the top NICL West teams nip and tuck, but couldn't do enough to get the win. The Trojans narrowly lost to West Marshall by one point in double overtime on Jan. 15, before dropping the two contests over the weekend.
Hammond acknowledged the losses are frustrating to him and the players, but despite their 6-13 overall record and 5-9 conference record, they know they are better than a six-win team.
"Our conference has co-champions this year in West Marshall and Gladbrook-Reinbeck," Hammond said. "We played them both incredibly well. We played AGWSR incredibly well and those three teams will finish ahead of us. Our conference record doesn't indicate how good we are or aren't. We lost some games that maybe we shouldn't have lost, but that's competition.
"The kids are playing hard right now and they're playing together," he added. "You can't ask for any more than that. That's how you want to finish the season. No matter if you're undefeated or winless, you want to make sure you're playing as hard as you can for the whole game all the way to the end of the season. Right now, we're doing that."
On Saturday, Gladbrook-Reinbeck sophomore Zach Pierce imposed his will in the paint on both ends of the floor. His double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds were enough to lead the Rebels (14-4, 13-1) to victory and a share of the NICL West crown with West Marshall.
"He's a solid player," Hammond said. "He's strong. Even then, we made him earn his points. We actually defended him really well and he made some really tough shots. That's a credit to him."
STC sophomores Grant Koch and Ian Slagle were the two primary defenders on Pierce. They didn't give him any easy looks throughout the contest, but he used his post moves to get some tough shots over the STC players. Pierce also altered or blocked several STC shots during the second half.
"Some nights, you get a foul called on some of those," Hammond said. "Some nights, you don't. I'm not saying he was fouling us, because that's just the nature of the game. Both ends were allowed to be physical."
Koch led the Trojans with 13 points. Slagle added eight points, while senior Jose Fonseca scored in double figures with 10 points Saturday.
"We have a couple of young kids that are really starting to blossom," Hammond said. "They are playing hard and really showing improvement."
South Tama led 14-13 midway through the second quarter, but the Rebels closed the half on a 12-2 run, which included seven points from Pierce. STC stayed with striking distance in the second half, but couldn't cut the Rebels led under seven points in the third quarter or under five points in the fourth quarter.
"Maybe we just need one more pass or one more dribble," Hammond said. "It's not a case where we are miles away from where we want to be. We're doing some good things."
On Friday, South Tama led for most of the game, but by the narrowest of margins. A basket from Clay Waterbury cut the AGWSR led to one point with 5:08 remaining in the contest. The Cougars answered with a three-pointer on the next possession. Koch scored on the Trojans next trip down court, but again Cougars senior Josh Bagley responded with two buckets and four free throws during the next minutes to lock up the win.
"The kids have really grown," Hammond said. "After Christmas, our personnel changed and we had to change with it. For the most part, we've done a pretty good job of that."
STC will host Grinnell at home on Tuesday before hosting Benton Community on Feb. 12.