The Hayfield boys basketball team has been so close to playing on the big stage in recent seasons. Now that it has arrived, the Vikings want to make the most of their opportunity.
After emerging as the Section 1A champion this season, Hayfield dispatched Legacy Christian 63-42 in the Class A state quarterfinals this past week. Up next the Vikings (19-4) face Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (20-3) at noon Wednesday in the state semifinals at Target Center.
“I just feel great for the kids,” Hayfield coach Chris Pack said. “They’ve gone through a lot this year, as every team has. But our guys have had two straight 24-win seasons the last two years and fell just a little bit short of reaching the goal of the state tournament, so I just feel great that these guys have this opportunity.”
Hayfield lost in the section title game a season ago, a year when no state tournament was held due to the pandemic. Now the Vikings are a win away from reaching the title game.
“Definitely an honor; not everyone gets to play up there,” Hayfield forward Easton Fritcher said. “We’ve worked hard all year. Things started out pretty different than we’re used to, but we fought and we pushed each other all year.”
Pack has been trying to limit the distractions for his team, which has been surging. The Vikings have won 14 of their past 15 games.
“We can’t get caught up in all the extra stuff,” Pack said. “We just have to go out and play our game the way we’ve been playing the last 15 games. And I’m confident that if we do that, we’ll come out on top.”
Hayfield is coming off an excellent defensive game in which it held a high-scoring foe to just 42 points. The Vikings will face the same challenge in the semifinals as Badger/G-MR averages nearly 70 points per game.
“If you play good defense this time of year, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win,” Pack said. “That’s definitely been a key.”
In its state quarterfinal win, Badger/G-MR hit three 3-pointers, but the rest of its points came on inside baskets, layups on the break or free throws.
“They’re not a great perimeter team, so we need to slow them down on the inside and really make them work for their baskets in the half court and not give them anything in transition and rebounds,” Pack said. “Then, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
“I think if we stay focused and execute our game plan and play great defense like we have been, I think there’s no stopping us,” Fritcher said.
Fritcher is coming off a game in which he had a school-record 29 rebounds in the state quarterfinals. The 6-foot junior is averaging about 12 rebounds per game.
“He’s been a terror on the glass, not just last game but all season, really,” Pack said.
The Vikings will also rely on 5-9 guard Kobe Foster to play tough defense.
“Their best player is a guard and Kobe Foster has been locking down (on defense) for us,” Pack said. “Kobe, he’s small in stature, but he’s a really good defender. He’ll have the assignment on their best player.”
Hayfield also has plenty of scoring power. Senior Ethan Slaathaug, a 6-3 guard, leads the way, averaging 25.2 points per game and senior guard Isaac Matti averages 17.1. The Vikings average just under 73 points per game.
“Ethan Slaathaug and Isaac Matti are premier scores; it’s nice to have that at this time of the year,” Pack said. "Someone who can go get a basket when you need one."
Fritcher and sophomore Ethan Pack also average in double figures at just over 10 points per game.
“I feel like we’re balanced,” coach Pack said. “It’s not like they can just come in and shut down Slaathaug.”
The winner advances to the Class A title game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Target Center.
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CLASS A STATE SEMIFINALS
Who: Hayfield (19-4) vs. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River (20-3).
When: Wednesday, noon.
Where: Target Center.
Up next: The winner faces the winner of the Hancock (18-5) vs. Sleepy Eye St. Mary's (20-3) game in the championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Target Center.