Ethan Slaathaug scored 34 points and Isaac Matti chipped in 22 in Hayfield's 79-53 drubbing of Badger/Greenbush Middle River in Wednesday's Class A boys basketball state semifinals.
B/G-MR was within three points late in the first half, but Hayfield ran away from the Gators in the second half and cruised to the big victory.
Hayfield will play Hancock on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Target Center in the Class A state championship game. It's the first time since 2001 that Hayfield will play for a state title. Hancock defeated Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s 65-53 in the other Class A semifinal Wednesday. Hancock was led by 6-foot-7 big man Matt Thompson. The junior scored 20 points and ripped down 19 rebounds.
Here are five takeaways from Hayfield's dominant Class A semifinals victory.
Recruit Ethan Slaathaug
The eye test shows that Ethan Slaathaug is playing like one of the best players in the state, regardless of what class the Vikings play in. He scored or assisted on Hayfield’s first 16 points Wednesday. Slaathaug was all over the place defensively, too, getting his hands in passing lanes and getting out in transition for easy buckets. He finished with a game-high 34 points. Slaathaug was tremendous on both ends, and he didn't turn the ball over repeatedly.
He drained two early 3-pointers to get the Vikings going and B/G-MR struggled to guard him all game long. His silky-smooth midrange jumper was on fire, and he was nearly automatic from the free-throw line.
Slaathaug, one of the best available recruits in the entire state of Minnesota, is still unsigned.
First-half flurry changes the game
Hayfield had zero momentum with four minutes left in the first half. Defensive wizard Kobe Foster had just picked up his third foul, and B/G-MR’s big man Zach Blawat had just ripped down his third offensive rebound and put it back in to bring the Gators within 26-23. Hayfield’s 11-point lead had dwindled to three, as BGMR was on a 12-4 run. Then, Ethan Pack changed the game. He got to the free-throw line on back-to-back possessions and then poked away a steal. Right before falling to the ground, he zipped it ahead to Slaathaug for a layup plus a foul. Slaathaug converted the old-fashioned three-point play to give Hayfield a 32-23 lead. Pack swiped two more steals (four total in the first half) which set up a jumper from Isaac Matti and an easy layup by Easton Fritcher. Hayfield closed the half on a huge 12-3 run to take a 38-26 lead into the half. They never looked back.
Defense delivers again
B/G-MR isn’t an outside shooting team. It's not the biggest team but the Gators do an incredible job of getting the ball in the paint and getting buckets. They had a size advantage inside on Hayfield, but the Vikings’ defense refused to let them have an inch of space on the perimeter. Hayfield’s ball pressure led to 14 turnovers in the first half alone, and the Vikings turned that into 19 first-half points. Matti and Fritcher were tremendous defending down on the block without fouling. Matti and Fritcher both had big blocks. Slaathaug, Pack and Foster were draped on their guys and gave them no room to operate. B/G-MR looked rattled from the Hayfield pressure, and the Vikings took full advantage. Pack finished with six of Hayfield's 17 steals. Karver Heydt came off the bench to swipe four steals. Fritcher and Slaathaug each had three.
Vikings eviscerate the pressure
When B/G-MR went down by 20 points in the second half, it really ramped up the pressure with about 10 minutes left. But Hayfield refused to get rattled. Slaathaug flew down the lane for easy buckets. Isaac Matti took control of the game, too. The Vikings acted like they had been on the big stage of the state tournament. B/G-MR tried valiantly to switch things up to give Hayfield troubles, but the Vikings weren’t having any part of it. The Vikings are a really hard team to pull off a comeback against. They make their free throws and head coach Chris Pack does a great job of getting five skilled ball-handlers out on the floor in Slaathaug, Foster, Matti, Fritcher and Ethan Pack.
Matti ready for the big stage
He's only a sophomore, but Matti proved that the bright lights weren’t too much for him. Slaathaug was the best player on the floor, and Matti was the second-best. He scored 21 points and drained four 3-pointers, playing without fear. If he misses one shot, he’s ready to fire confidently the next time around. Slaathaug is an excellent No. 1 scorer, but the reason he has more space is because teams can’t sag off Hayfield’s supporting cast. When Matti is going off for 22 points and Slaathaug is eclipsing 30, it’s going to be really hard to beat the Vikings. Hayfield's 1-2 punch is the best in Class A basketball right now. If they're rolling on Saturday, the Vikings can win a state championship.
CLASS A SEMIFINALS
Hayfield 79, Badger/Greenbush Middle River 53
Ethan Pack 11 P, 2 3-PT; Ethan Slaathaug 34 P, 3 3-PT; Easton Fritcher 5 P, 15 R; Isaac Matti 22 P, 4 3-PT; Isaiah Tempel 3 P, 1 3-PT; Erik Bungum 2 P; Lucas Hansen 2 P.
BADGER/GREENBUSH MIDDLE RIVER (53)
Aaron Westling 12 P; Aven Augustson 9 P, 3 3-PT; Kobey Dallager 14 P, 1 3-PT; Adam Benke 13 P; Zach Blawat 4 P; Ty Christian 1 P.
Halftime: HAY 38, BGMR 26
Free throws: HAY 17-24, BGMR 11-17.
Three-point goals: HAY 10, BGMR 4