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Caledonia rolls into Class AA state semifinals: 'It’s just awesome to move on'

Caledonia used a dominating performance to topple St. Croix Prep Academy 81-52 in the Class AA state quarterfinals in boys basketball on Wednesday.

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Caledonia's Jackson Koepke (10) tries to get past St. Croix Preparatory Academy's Peyton Gremmels (3) during a Class AA boys basketball state quarterfinal game on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Mayo High School in Rochester. Koepke scored 22 points as Caledonia beat St. Croix Preparatory Academy 81-52. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Caledonia rarely slows down on offense, and when the Warriors are also playing stellar defense, they are one of the best teams in the state.

Caledonia's full array of talent was on display Wednesday night in the Class AA state boys basketball quarterfinals at Mayo High School. The Warriors, the No. 2 seed in the South, rolled past No. 3 seed St. Croix Prep Academy 81-53 to earn a spot in next week's semifinals.

“It’s just awesome to move on,” Caledonia coach Brad King said. “You want to have another practice with the guys, you want to have another bus ride, you want to have another game.”

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The Warriors, ranked No. 3 in Class AA in the final state poll, were able to score right near their season average with the 81 points against eighth-ranked St. Croix Prep. But St. Croix entered the game averaging 78 points a game and it was held to 26 points under its season average.

"I think it was keeping them in front of us with their dribble," King said. "We did a great job of executing for the most part of keeping the dribble in front of us and they had to settle for some pull ups, which are hard to shoot."

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Caledonia's Andrew Kunelius (5) pulls up for a shot during a Class AA boys basketball state quarterfinal against St. Croix Preparatory Academy Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Mayo High School in Rochester. Caledonia beat St. Croix Preparatory Academy 81-52. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The Warriors started to control play with eight minutes left in the half. They closed with a 21-11 run to take a 40-27 lead at the break.

“I think we executed really well tonight and I think we took care of what the coaches were telling us,” Caledonia senior forward Sam Privet said. “And we were taking care of what we’ve been working on in practice and it really paid off.”

While the Lions struggled to score, especially in the second half, Caledonia's offense was clicking most of the night. The Warriors used their size to a big advantage and also had excellent balance.

“I think when we moved the ball we were really good,” King said. “We’re a very balanced team so it’s hard to defend when that ball’s flying around. We get a little easier to defend when the ball's just sitting there.”

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Backup Jackson Koepke (14 points) and the 6-foot-8 Privet (13) combined for 27 points in the first half as the Warriors took a 40-29 lead at the break.

Koepke led Caledonia with 22 points overall while Privet had 21. Senior 6-4 guard Austin Klug had 17 points and 6-5 center Casey Schultz added 11 points and 12 rebounds.

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Caledonia's Austin Klug (3) takes a shot during a Class AA boys basketball state quarterfinal game against St. Croix Preparatory Academy on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Mayo High School in Rochester. Klug scored 17 points and Caledonia won 81-52. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

“It’s great to have this many guys who can put the ball in the hole,” Privet said. “If one guy isn’t shooting well one night we can always count on somebody else. We’ve just got so many weapons, it’s really nice to have.”

Caledonia (22-1) wore St. Croix (20-2) down in the second half and outscored the Lions 41-23. Caledonia led by 33 points with 6:30 to play. The Warriors dominated on the boards and used their size to get inside to score, but they also knocked down eight 3-pointers, three each by Koepke and Privet.

“I think that was a big factor,” Privet said of Caledonia’s size. “Obviously it helps being a little bit bigger than the other team. We just had to make sure we used that to our advantage.”

Caledonia advances to the semifinals on April 7 at 2 p.m. at Target Center and will play Minneapolis North, the No. 1 seed in the North.

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The Warriors have won 20 straight games and they have just two wins decided by few than 10 points this season.

“I think we’re playing really well right now,” Privet said. “We just have to keep moving forward and get a little bit better every day.”

Caledonia 81, St. Croix Prep 52
ST. CROIX PREP (52)

Sam Johnson 7 P, 1 3-PT; Addison Metcalf 23 P, 3 3-PT; Andrew Howard 9 P; Teige Lethert 9 P, 1 3-PT; Peyton Gremmels 2 P; Bjorn Benson 2 P.

CALEDONIA (81)
Jackson Koepke 22 P, 5 R, 3 3-PT; Casey Schultz 11 P, 12 R, 1 3-PT; Austin Klug 17 P, 1 3-PT; Andrew Kunelius 6 P; Ja’Shon Simpson 2 P, 6 R; Sam Privet 21 P, 6 R, 3 3-PT; Thane Meiners 2 P.
Halftime: CAL 40, SCP 29.
Free throws: SCP 7-9, CAL 13-17.

Three-point goals: SCP 5, CAL 8.

Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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