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GAME RECAP: A reason to smile as Blossoms power past Vikings

ROCHESTER — The No. 1 seeded Blooming Prairie boys basketball team gave their community another big reason to smile when they powered their way past No. 2 Hayfield 59-51 to lock up the Section 1A title Thursday night in Mayo Civic Center, clinching their second trip to state in school history.

The Awesome Blossoms, who last went to state in 1966, held the lead throughout the second half as they controlled the paint behind big efforts from senior Gabe Hagen, who had 23 points, four assists and five rebounds, and sophomore Drew Kittelson, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots.

Hagen led BP to each of the last two state football tournaments, including a state title this past fall, but he wasn’t taking Thursday’s opportunity for granted. He certainly wasn’t rattled when it was announced before the game that the state tournament may be in jeopardy due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“If we wanted to get past this and focus on that, we had to win this game. If we didn’t win this game, that was not for us to think about,” Hagen said. “(Hayfield) has a great team. They have good players and a great bench, it was hard to beat them (three times this year). It’s nice because they did it to us last year and we just had to get some revenge.

Kittelson was a role player early in the season for the Awesome Blossoms (25-3 overall), but he’s matured into an effective defensive player and capable scorer. He hit a big three-pointer to put BP up 52-43 with 6:40 left in the game.

“I knew it was a big game and I knew they were a good team, but I knew we could beat them. I thought we were a better team. We just had to stay focused and not look ahead. Take it one game at a time,” Kittelson said. “I thought it was fun just being a bench player (earlier this year). I was getting good experience and I was building towards next year. When Karson got hurt and my name was called to start, I did step up and do what I could do to help the team. I made big plays when I had the chance to.”

Ethan Slaathaug hit a three to pull the Vikings (24-6 overall) within 47-43, but that was as close as they could get down the stretch. Slaathaug finished with 21 points and he gave Hayfield its last lead of the night when he hit a free throw to make it 28-27 in the first half.

“It was just kind of hard. We went on our little run at the end of the first half and we were feeling good about that,” Slaathaug said. “Gabe kind of counterpunched that run and we felt like we couldn’t get the game back. It kind of killed us.”

Hayfield will return Slaathaug, a junior, Isaac Matti, a freshman, who had four points and four rebounds, and sophomore Easton Fritcher, who had nine points, five rebounds and four assists.

“This will motivate us a lot next year,” Slaathaug said. “We bring back a lot of firepower and I think we’ll be better next year. This was a great season and we’ll miss our seniors. I’m proud of how far we went.”

Luke Dudycha, who finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds, scored the first six points of the game for Hayfield, which took a 9-4 lead early on, but BP stayed in the game as it kept feeding Hagen, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half. The Awesome Blossoms seized a 40-31 advantage early in the second half when Kaden Thomas, who had 14 points, knocked down a three with 12:41 left in the game.

“When I made my first shot of the game I knew I was on,” Hagen said. “My team kept feeding me and they didn’t want to double me, so I just went to work.”

With the NCAA cancelling all winter tournaments and spring sports seasons, there is legitimate doubt as to whether or not the Minnesota Class A Boys Basketball Tournament will take place next week. The Minnesota State High School League is limiting attendance to the girls state basketball tournament Friday and Saturday and there will be limited attendance in the Section 1AAA title game between Austin and Albert Lea at the Civic Center at 8 p.m. Friday.

All consolation games for Friday and Saturday were canceled at the state girls basketball tournament.

Regardless of what awaits them, Kittelson are preparing to play in the state tournament at Williams Arena on Wednesday.

“We wish we had fans, but (hopefully) we’re still playing the game we love,” Kittelson said. “We’ll play it like it was any other game.”

Hayfield 28  23  –  51

BP 31  28  –  59

Blooming Prairie scoring: Gabe Hagen, 23; Kaden Thomas, 14; Drew Kittelson, 11; Zach Weber, 4; Parker Vaith, 3; Isaac Ille, 2; Zach Archer, 2; free throws: 46 percent (10-for-22); rebounds: 19 (Kittelson, 9); turnovers: 8

Hayfield scoring: Ethan Slaathaug, 21; Luke Dudycha, 11; Easton Fritcher, 9; Patrick Towey, 6; Isaac Matti, 4; free throws: 53 percent (8-for-15); rebounds: 31 (Dudycha, 16); turnovers: 13