Traxler: Neuendorfs, Hamlin boys get 'signature win' at Class A tourney over Sioux Valley
The Chargers are making their first state tournament appearance in boys basketball in 30 years, representing the district which includes Hayti, Hazel, Lake Norden and Bryant.
SIOUX FALLS — In 2015, Easton Neuendorf couldn’t bear to watch the end of the Aberdeen Roncalli state championship game that his dad was coaching against Dell Rapids. The Cavaliers won, but the coach’s young son was too nervous to see how it all turned out.
On Thursday, the young Neuendorf was not running away.
Instead, he was hitting the big free throws to get the Hamlin Chargers their biggest state tournament victory in 30 years, a 72-64 win over fourth-seeded Sioux Valley. The win included a comeback from a 10-point halftime hole after Hamlin was playing nervous and scared in the first half, the coach said after the game.
It’s the second season that the Chargers have been under Neuendorf’s leadership since the coach left the Mitchell job to be closer to family in the northeast part of the state. In the first season on the job, Neuendorf said that the program had the potential to contend but needed to beat the next class of opponents in Class A. The Chargers, after all, are making their first state tournament appearance in boys basketball in 30 years, representing the district which includes Hayti, Hazel, Lake Norden and Bryant.
Sioux Valley, which has played in the last two Class A state championship games and has qualified for four of the last five state tournaments, certainly qualifies. The Hamlin contingent wasn’t sure the last time they had defeated Sioux Valley but it’s in the range of at least a decade.
“This is, for our program, it’s a signature win,” coach Neuendorf said. “It goes a long way for improving our kids’ confidence going forward. It’s one game at a time and once you set the expectation of winning, that’s a big deal, but it’s hard to get over that.”
Easton Neuendorf helped lead the way. The sophomore had 22 points, seven assists and four rebounds and finished 15-for-18 on free throws. The ball was in the young guard’s hands a lot, just as it has been for years following his dad around at practices and for games.
“When we made eight straight state tournaments with Aberdeen Roncalli, he was a little kid,” coach Neuendorf said. “He’s been in the locker room and he’s heard those butt-chewings and he knows the Xs and Os of that. He’s been in the state tournament. He said, 'Dad, I want to play in the state tournament.' I just knew he was going to will those free throws in. It’s special to him and he trusts his teammates.”
Easton Neuendorf said he tries to make a point to play with confidence on the court and appreciates the trust of his teammates.
“If you don’t play with confidence, you only let doubt set in,” he said. “We need to be a confident team to win.”
Like for the Chargers, it’s been a big week for the Neuendorf family. Freshman Addison Neuendorf was a key guard on the Chargers’ championship team that won it all last week in Watertown, and mom Jaime, was one of the Chargers’ girls assistant coaches.
Todd Neuendorf was left to only be a fan, which he said was tough to handle from the bleachers.
“It was awful. I was in every corner of the Watertown Arena,” he said. “When you coach, you have some control over it. When you’re just a dad, you don’t have control. You just want to will them to the win because you don’t know how many chances you’re going to get at something like this.”