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Gritty Caledonia rallies from double-digit hole to edge Stewartville in clash of titans

Will Tschetter was unstoppable, but Andrew Kunelius and Casey Schultz sparked Caledonia to a big come-from-behind victory on Friday in a matchup of two outstanding programs.

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Caledonia's Andrew Kunelius (5) takes a shot over Stewartville's Mason Schindler (23) during a boys basketball game Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Caledonia. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

CALEDONIA — No Eli King, no Austin Klug, no problem.

Seven key players were out on Friday, but No. 3 Caledonia and No. 4 Stewartville still put on a heck of a show.

Michigan commit Will Tschetter exploded for 20 of his game-high 31 points in the first half as Stewartville built a double-digit lead, but Caledonia came roaring back and used a late 21-4 eruption late in the second half to come from behind and nip Stewartville 72-60 in the non-conference boys basketball showdown.

“I think it was one of the biggest wins for us,” Caledonia head coach Brad King said. “Knowing that other guys had to step up that maybe hadn’t had to before. It’s the first time in their careers that they had to play big minutes. That was the most impressive thing. We fell behind numerous times but just kept fighting. I really liked the toughness and composure from our team down the stretch.”

Both teams were heavily shorthanded. Caledonia already lost Eli King to a season-ending knee injury before the season, and then leading scorer Austin Klug rolled his ankle right at the end of practice on Wednesday, key rotational weapon Jashon Simpson suffered a hand injury and Austin Meyer was also out for the Warriors.

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Stewartville didn’t have electric point guard Nolan Stier and 6-foot-5 big man Bode Mayer was nursing an ankle injury. Then, veteran guard Ben Trenary tore his ACL on Tuesday and was also out.

So, Caledonia was without four of its top-eight players, and Stewartville was without three of its top-seven guys.

But you might not have known it watching the hotly contested game.

Tschetter did everything he could for the Tigers, totaling 31 points and 20 rebounds, but he couldn’t outduel Caledonia’s quartet of Andrew Kunelius (21 points), Casey Schultz (15 points), Sam Privet (14 points) and Jackson Koepke (11 points).

“Will is obviously a monster,” King said. “He murdered us in the first half because he was making all of his jumpers. In the second half, we wanted to force him to put the ball on the deck a little more. Casey Schultz, you talk about tough, that’s got to be next to his name somewhere.”

Stewartville led 56-51 with less than seven minutes left in the second half, but the Tigers didn’t make a field goal the rest of the game. They had multiple layups in the second half sit temptingly on the rim before falling off.

Caledonia took advantage. Kunelius drained a 3-pointer right in front of his own bench to spark the rally, and then his steal and old fashioned 3-point play gave Caledonia a 57-56 lead.

A Stewartville free throw from Noah Looney tied it at 57, but Schultz delivered a beautiful reverse layup off a baseline drive to take the lead. Caledonia ramped up the pressure and forced multiple key turnovers and knocked down 6 of 7 free throws down the stretch. Kunelius’ steal and rim-rattling jam was the final nail in the coffin.

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“(Kunelius) was great,” King said. “Again, you try to tell other kids that the work will pay off. There’s a great example of it. He put in a lot of work when it was hard to get the work in throughout the summer. It’s paying off for him. Some college is going to get a heck of a guard.”

Both King and Stewartville head coach Adam Girtman believed that Stier’s absence really changed the game because Caledonia could ramp up the pressure and Stewartville just couldn’t quite find a way to execute down the stretch. But Girtman was more than pleased with the toughness, fight and effort from his undermanned Tigers.

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Stewartville's Will Tschetter (42) takes a shot over Caledonia's Casey Schultz (2) during a boys basketball game Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Caledonia. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Tschetter, Eli Klavetter and Miles Hettinger absolutely dominated Caledonia on the glass for most of the night. Klavetter and Hettinger kept multiple possessions alive with huge offensive rebounds. They just couldn’t get a layup to drop.

“That’s all you ask for,” Girtman said. “The thing I always try and tell the kids is the one thing you can control is how hard you work. We’re going to have more talent than 90 percent of the teams we play and the only way we lose is if we get outworked. Offensive rebounding is pure hustle, pure heart. I thought we brought all the heart tonight.”

Despite the loss, Tschetter continued to prove that he’s one of the elite recruits in the Class of 2021. He drained two 3-pointers in the first half, and his midrange jumper was straight-up unguardable.

“He’s the second-best player in the state, no question,” Girtman said. “You can’t stop him. The only way to stop him is to put two guys on him. Even tonight, he has 31 points and 20 rebounds with two guys draped all over him. He gets up at 5 a.m. and goes and lifts. He’s earned all the accolades he’s getting. I’m really privileged to get to coach such a special talent.”

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Caledonia has a special bunch that's capable of winning on the biggest of stages. Stewartville isn't going to lose many games this season thanks to Tschetter's brilliance and a supporting cast that refuses to give up. Even with plenty of stars sitting on the pine, both the Tigers and the Warriors left it all on the line.

And a rematch in the Section 1AA finals would be something special.

"That’s the joys of high school basketball," Girtman said. "We played as hard as we could, as well as we could and we lost. That’s how life goes. You have to get back up and keep fighting. I'm really proud of my team."

No. 3 CALEDONIA 72, No. 4 STEWARTVILE 60

STEWARTVILLE (60)

Kaleb Hellickson 4 P, 1 3-PT; Noah Looney 1 P; Miles Hettinger 3 P; Zac Majerus 0 P; Eli Klavetter 10 P, 2 3-PT; Mason Schindler 5 P; Max Barnes 5 P, 1 3-PT; Alex Larson 2 P; Will Tschetter 31 P, 2 3-PT.
CALEDONIA (72)
Casey Schultz 15 P, 3 3-PT; Andrew Kunelius 21 P, 3 3-PT; Jackson Kopek 11 P, 1 3-PT; Chris Pieper 2 P; Devin Vonderohe 3 P, 1 3-PT; Sam Privet 14 P, 1 3-PT; Thanke Meiners 4 P; Lewis Doyle 2 P.
Halftime: STEW 36, CAL 34.
Free throws: STEW 10-16, CAL 7-11.
Three-point goals: STEW 6, CAL 9.

Email: itrotter@postbulletin.com
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