Time and time again, when Caledonia has been in trouble, it would dig deep and find a way to get the job done down the stretch.

The Warriors faced the same scenario Saturday in the Class AA boys basketball state championship game, tied at 43-43 with 6:36 left in the second half against Waseca. Two terrific teams teams were battling it out for the state title. Waseca’s standout point guard Ryan Dufault scored six points in a row to give the Bluejays a 49-43 lead.

Then, Austin Klug brought the Warriors back with four points in a row. Sam Privet’s layup knotted the score at 49-49, and the Warriors had the ball with one minute left.

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But a costly 20th turnover ended up dooming Caledonia.

Dufault was tremendous, and the St. Thomas commit came up with the play of the game. The senior point guard drained a fadeaway baseline jumper with 2.1 seconds left. After a Caledonia timeout, Jackson Koepke’s half-court heave came agonizingly close –– just like Gordon Hayward’s heave against Duke in the 2010 National Championship Game.

Final score: Waseca 51, Caledonia 49.

Klug was tremendous. The Caledonia senior drained a 3-pointer from NBA range on his first touch of the game, and he stayed red hot all game long. In a matchup of star-studded rosters with high-level basketball talent, it was a baseball commit who shined.

Caledonia's Austin Klug, middle, drives to the basket during the Class AA state boys basketball championship game against Waseca on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)
Caledonia's Austin Klug, middle, drives to the basket during the Class AA state boys basketball championship game against Waseca on Saturday, April 10, 2021, at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Klug –– who signed with North Iowa Area Community College to play baseball –– was nearly unstoppable. He finished with a game-high 25 points. He shot 8-for-15 from the field and 2-for-7 from 3-point range. He hit all but one of his free throws.

Waseca jumped out to an early 19-9 lead, but Klug brought Caledonia back, using a barrage of midrange, fall-away jumpers and runners. Caledonia trailed just 29-27 at the half.

Waseca had dominated its opponents all year long, but the Warriors gave the Bluejays everything they could handle. They out-rebounded the bigger Waseca team 42-32. Casey Schultz ripped down 12 rebounds while Klug had nine of his own.

They did it all without star junior Eli King who was forced to sit on the bench, agonizing over each and every play. King –– who is sidelined for the entire season with a torn meniscus –– was the first man off the bench in timeouts, offering constant encouragement and tips. He leaped off the bench with a scream when Koepke splashed a 3-pointer right in front of Caledonia’s bench to bring the Warriors within one at 40-39 in the second half.

The Caledonia defense was terrific all night long. It shut down Minnesota State, Mankato commit Kyreese Willingham, who finished with just four points on 14 shots, and was 0-for-7 from 3-point range. North Dakota State-bound big man Andrew Morgan only scored nine points. But they had no answer for Dufault. The Waseca senior point guard was unstoppable for most of the night. He stopped and popped for mid-range jumpers, he splashed three 3-pointers and he was a blur in transition.

And in the biggest of moments, one of the best players in the entire state made the biggest shot of his life.

Caledonia is left to wonder what could have been. Even without their best player, the Warriors were seconds away from a state title.

CLASS AA CHAMPIONSHIP

Waseca 51, Caledonia 49

CALEDONIA (49)

Casey Schultz 5 P, 12 R, 1 3-PT; Austin Klug 25 P, 2 3-PT; Andrew Kunelius 5 P, 1 3-PT; Jashon Simpson 2 P; Sam Privet 7 P, 1 3-PT; Jackson Koepke 5 P, 1 3-PT.

WASECA (51)

Kyreese Willingham 4 P; Andrew Morgan 9 P, 8 R; Matt Seberson 6 P, 7 R; Ryan Dufault 23 P, 3 3-PT, 5 R, 5 S; Zach Hoehn 9 P, 3 3-PT.

Halftime: WAS 29, CAL 27

Free throws: CAL 9-10, WAS 9-16.

Three-point goals: CAL 6, WAS 6.