Run it Back with Pack: Vikings come back to top Jaguars in Class A title game 

Published 2:42 pm Saturday, March 26, 2022

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MINNEAPOLIS – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

The No. 1 seeded Hayfield boys basketball team trailed for most of the first half, but made the big plays down the stretch to pull off their second straight state title when they edged out Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the Minnesota Class A Boys State Basketball Tournament championship game in Williams Arena Saturday.

Hayfield (32-2 overall) didn’t make a field goal in the final three minutes of the game, but its defense and clutch free throw shooting came through. The Vikings took the lead for good when Zander Jacobson hit one of two free throws to put the Vikings up 45-44. Hayfield would close the game out with six straight free throws and none were bigger than Easton Fritcher’s two free throws in the single bonus that made it 47-44 Hayfield with 32.5 seconds left.

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Fritcher initially didn’t want to shoot the free throws, but he quickly took a deep breath and focused himself.

“I didn’t think I had the ball (when I was fouled) and I’m not the greatest free throw shooter. I actually got worse this year and I was around 46 percent on the season, but I know I can make them,” Fritcher said. “Just like last year, I made them when it mattered. I knew I had to step up.”

Fritcher, who had 13 points and eight rebounds, had tied the game earlier at 44-44 when he laid in an alley-oop lob pass with 3:30 left in the game.

Hayfield officially iced the game when Kobe Foster came up with a steal with 22 seconds left and went two for two at the line to put the Vikings up 49-44. After Ethan Pack hit two free throws to put Hayfield up 51-46 with eight seconds left, Hayfield head coach Chris Pack pulled all of his starters to the side and he let celebration begin.

“The story for us all year is that Isaac (Matti) leads us and Ethan makes plays as well. We know Zander (Jacobson) is going to rebound and make big shots,” Chris Pack said. “Between Kobe and Easton, they just brought energy and our team feeds off it. Easton’s not a great basketball player, but he’s a heck of an athlete and I’ve never had a kid play so hard. He’s really fun to coach and Kobe’s right there with him. Those are some big shoes that we’re going to have to fill next year.”

The Vikings were in a funk for much of the first half, but they grabbed a little momentum when Easton Fritcher scored with just two seconds to bring Hayfield within 29-21. Isaac Matti gave Hayfield an added boost when he hit two straight threes to start the second half and bring his team within 29-27.

“We were down. We knew we had to face adversity sometime this year,” Matti said. “I knew I had to knock down some big shots and I did that.”

Matti, who finished with 27 points, added a jump shot to put Hayfield up 38-36, and he converted a lay-up to make it 40-36 with 10:33 left.

“He’s been our guy all year,” Fritcher said. “We always get Isaac his shots. He’s the best player on this team and he hits great shots when it matters. If he doesn’t hit those two threes, it’s a totally different game. The momentum shift was crazy.”

Hayfield went 0-for-5 on threes in the first half, while the Jaguars (26-5 overall) knocked down four early triples. The Vikings went 2-for-11 from the field with five turnovers over the first nine minutes of the game as they trailed 13-4.

The Vikings kept their cool and didn’t back down when faced with the early deficit and the group that gave Hayfield its first ever state basketball title can now rest.

“It was a sigh of relief,” said Foster. “We had a target on our back all year and we had the expectations with being the number one team. We had to leave it all on the floor.”

Hayfield went 21-4 overall in the 2021-2022 season and it beat Hancock 61-60 in the state title game. That state run saw the Vikings play in front of limited crowds and players were required to wear masks during games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Vikings were a No. 3 seed in Section 1A in that season and a No. 4 seed in the state tournament. This year, the Vikings were ranked No. 1 throughout most of the season. 

For the Hayfield basketball players who also play baseball, they won’t get too much time to relax. The Viking baseball team will be in Florida this week for a team trip as it looks to begin the defense of its Class A state title from last season.

BBE 29  20 –  49

Hayfield 21  30  – 51

Hayfield scoring: Isaac Matti, 27; Easton Fritcher, 13; Zander Jacobson, 7; Ethan Pack, 2; Kobe Foster, 2; free throws: 83 percent (10-for-12); rebounds: 28 (Fritcher, 8); turnovers: 7

BBE scoring: Ashton Dingmann, 20; Luke Dingmann, 15; Kaden Pieper, 10; Gavin Kampsen, 2; Easton Hagen, 2; free throws: 50 percent (1-for-2); rebounds: 28 (Pieper, 6); turnovers: 9