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Blooming Prairie earns first state berth in boys basketball since 1966

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Blooming Prairie players celebrate their 59-51 win over Hayfield in the Section 1A championship boys basketball game Thursday, March 12, 2020 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Gabe Hagen was unstoppable on the inside and as a result Blooming Prairie is going to the Class A state tournament in boys basketball.

The Blossoms (25-3) ended their 50-plus year state-tournament drought with a 59-51 victory over Hayfield in the Section 1A championship game on Thursday. The Blossoms' last -- and only other -- state berth was in 1966.

"It's super-exciting," Blossoms senior Kaden Thomas said. "This is our first state appearance since 1966 and in our gym we have a banner, so we want to put another banner up there."

"This feels great," Hagen said. "It's amazing for our community."

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Hagen is headed to Minnesota State, Mankato to play football, but he also has an all-around game on the basketball court.

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Hagen scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half as the Blossoms took a 31-28 lead at the break. The Blooming Prairie offense ran through Hagen as teammates flipped him the ball either in the high post or down low. Once he got the ball close to the basket, Hagen simply overpowered the Hayfield defense and dropped in shots at will.

"They played behind him because they had height, to make him go up and over," Blossoms coach Nathan Piller said. "But he's just so strong. He can get to the spot where he wants to score and he's usually successful."

Hayfield used slender 6-foot-7 Luke Dudycha to defend Hagen much of the game. But Hagen was able to power inside to make 8 of 10 shots in the first half and he was 11-for-14 in the game.

"My focus was to come into the game and play physically even though he's taller than me," Hagen said.

Hagen was more than a shooting force, however. He also dished out a number of passes to open teammates, both inside and outside, for open looks or easy buckets.

"The offense kinds of runs through me so when they feed me the ball, then if the defense doubles, I usually look for my shooters or cutters," Hagen said. "So that's a big part of our offense."

"He is one of our better passers," Piller said. "He sees a lot of double-teams and he knows where to find the open guys. He knows he doesn't have to score and it's something we tell our forwards."

Thomas had 13 points for the Blossoms and he drained four 3-pointers, two in each half. His final three, with 10:01 left, gave the Blossoms a 45-36 lead.

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"Even when Gabe doesn't score a lot of points he opens up everything else because a lot of teams try to double him and we have guys under the hoop, we have guys who can shoot and play well around him," Thomas said.

Hayfield made a final push and was within 47-43 after Ethan Slaathaug hit a three with 8:31 left. Then after Parker Vaith hit a pair of three throws, Drew Kittleson took a pass from Hagen and drained a three with 6:50 left to push the margin to 52-43. The Vikings never got closer than six after that.

Kittleson added 11 points and nine rebounds, while Hagen had eight rebounds.

Slaathaug led Hayfield with 21 points, 12 in the first half, while Dudycha had 11 points and 14 rebounds.

Blooming Prairie, the  No. 1 section seed, made 22 of 40 shots from the floor. The Vikings made 20 of 49 shots, but were just 10-for-29 in the second half.

"We don't always try to make steals, but we try to make every shot contested," Thomas said.

Second-seeded Hayfield (24-6) was denied its first state berth since 2013.

This continues Blooming Prairie's stellar run in boys sports this school year. It won the Class A state football championship last fall.

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"I feel so good for the boys," Piller said. "These guys have put in the time. This group of seniors have had great leadership all the way through. It's not that they just put in the time this year, they've put in the time since grade school. They've had this dream and really believed it was something they could do."

Blooming Prairie 59, Hayfield 51

No. 2 HAYFIELD (51)

Patrick Towey 6 P, 1 3-PT; Easton Fritcher 9 P, 6 R; Isaac Matti 4 P, 4 R; Luke Dudycha 11 P, 14 R; Ethan Slaathaug 21 P, 4 R, 2 3-PT. 

No. 1 BLOOMING PRAIRIE (59)

Isaac Ille 2 P; Zach Archer 2 P; Parker Vaith 5 P; Kaden Thomas 13 P, 4 3-PT; Zach Weber 2 P; Gabe Hagen 23 P, 8 R; Drew Kittelson 11 P, 9 R, 1 3-PT. 

Halftime: BP 31, HAY 28.

Free throws: HAY 8-15, BP 10-23.  Field goals:HAY 20-49, BP 22-40. 

Three-point goals: HAY 3, BP 5.  Rebounds:HAY 31, BP 28. Turnovers:HAY 11, BP 8.

Blooming Prairie vs. Hayfield Boys Basketball

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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