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Vikings land their ship

Hayfield holds off a big run to win its first state title in program history

MINNEAPOLIS – The Hayfield boys basketball team bent, but it never broke.

Hancock missed two game-tying threes in the final minute, before finally connecting on a meaningless buzzer-beating three that left the Vikings with a 61-60 win and a Minnesota Class A Boys State Basketball Tournament championship at Target Center Saturday afternoon.

Hayfield held a comfortable 59-52 lead with 1:14 left in the game, but the Vikings missed two three throws and committed three turnovers over the final stretch, giving the Owls three chances to tie the game. The first opportunity resulted in a missed three, the other led to a turnover on an errant pass out of bounds with 17.1 seconds left, and the Owls missed another three with 5.7 seconds left in the game.

Hayfield junior Easton Fritcher pulled down a rebound on the second missed three, and he calmly knocked down the first of two free throws to ice the game. Even as the Owls were dribbling the ball up the court for their last shot, Hayfield immediately began to celebrate its first state title in program history. Fritcher, who finished with 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, while going up against Hancock’s 6-foot, 7-inch standout Matt Thompson, was knocked to the ground during the celebration, but he wasn’t complaining.

“I’ve been focusing on my free throws a lot more than I usually do. I was pretty confident going up there,” Fritcher said. “I owed it to my team to make one just in case it came down to it and it did.”

Thompson finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Hancock, but a big chunk of his offense came in the game’s first 10 minutes.

Hayfield head coach Chris Pack finally took a sigh of relief when Fritcher hit the final free throw. Fritcher also went one-for-two at the line to put Hayfield up 60-54 with 49.4 seconds left.

“Easton’s not the guy we want up there statistically, but Hancock did a great job of denying our shooters the ball,” Pack said. “We knew Hancock would make a run and we’re just glad they never took the lead. I feel so happy for all of the guys who have played here over the years. It’s a whole community thing to win it.”

The Owls (19-6 overall) never took the lead in the second half, but they did pull within 49-46 when Sebastian Felix hit a three with with 10:18 left in the game. The Vikings responded when Ethan Slaathaug and Isaac Matti produced back-to-back buckets to make it 53-46 with 9:05 left.

Slaathaug finished with 20 points on 9-of-14 shots to go with four steals in his final game as a Viking.

“It means everything to win this for the community of Hayfield. All of the hard work we put in mattered the most during the postseason,” Slaathaug said. “It’ll be tough (to leave this team), but to know that we won it all in my last game is great. These guys might even be better next year and I’m going to try to come back and watch them.”

Hayfield (21-4 overall) had big boosts from unlikely sources in the first half as Kobe Foster, a defensive minded guard who rarely shoots, hit a pair of early baseline three-pointers, including one that tied the game at 14 with 10:49 left. Foster added back-to-back threes to put the Vikings up 45-34 with 14:39 left in the game.

Foster, a junior, went four-for-five on threes as he finished with 12 points and three rebounds. While he hadn’t shot much this year, he felt good on Saturday.

“I was feeling very confident going into this,” Foster said. “I was shooting a lot in practice and it carried over to today. It was an amazing feeling to win this. All of the hard work we put in paid off. To finish on a state title is just awesome.”

Easton Fritcher, an all-around energy provider, who does most of his work in the paint, nailed an incredibly rare three-pointer from the top of the key to put Hayfield up 39-31 with 41 seconds left in the first half.

Surprisingly , Fritcher’s three came on a play that was drawn up for him.

“I hadn’t shot a three all tournament and I only made like six all year. Coach told me to shoot it and I wasn’t thinking anything but to shoot the ball when I caught it,” Fritcher said.

Hayfield 39 22 – 61
Hancock 31 29 – 60

Hayfield scoring: Ethan Slaathaug, 20; Easton Fritcher, 13; Kobe Foster, 12; Ethan Pack, 9; Isaac Matti, 7; field goals: 59 percent (24-for-41); three-pointers: 53 percent (8-for-15); free throws: 50 percent (5-for-10); rebounds: 22 (Fritcher, 7); turnovers: 11
Hancock scoring: Matt Thompson, 18; Sebastian Felix, 13; Brandon Kellenberger, 10; Kody Berget, 6; Preston Rohloff, 4; Adam Shaw, 5; Luke Joos, 4; field goals: 51 percent (24-for-47); three-pointers: 39 percent (5-for-13); free throws: 50 percent (2-for-4); rebounds: 23 (Thompson, 12); turnovers: 13