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Caledonia throttles PEM in rare matchup of midseason unbeatens

The Warriors relentless pressure too much for Bulldogs

Caledonia, PEM boys basketball
Caledonia's Eli King finishes a slam dunk during the Warriors' 71-43 victory over Plainview-Elgin-Millville Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Caledonia High School.
Alex VandenHouten / Post Bulletin
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CALEDONIA, Minn. — On Tuesday night, the Caledonia High School boys basketball team sent the rest of the area a message: It is still a cut above the rest.

The Warriors — ranked No. 1 in Class AA by Prephoops.com — had little issue with previous unbeaten and fourth-ranked Plainview-Elgin-Millville, outscoring the Bulldogs by 23 points in the second half to win 71-43 in front of a capacity crowd at Caledonia High School.

It was a game that had plenty of hype around it and, initially, it lived up to it.

The Bulldogs (14-1) came out firing, taking control with solid defense and Aeron Stevens to stake an 18-11 early lead midway through the first half.

PEM, Caledonia boys basketball
Plainview-Elgin-Millville's Peyton Schumacher dribbles baseline during the Bulldogs' 71-43 loss to Caledonia on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022 at Caledonia High School.
Alex VandenHouten / Post Bulletin

In fact, Stevens had seven of PEM's first 10 points as the 6-foot-6 junior preyed on the lack of size from Caledonia (14-0). Combined with solid early guard play that handled the Warriors' pressure defense, the Bulldogs felt in control.

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But then, in almost a blink of an eye, that feeling was gone.

Turnovers compounded by missed free throws and bunnies turned a seven-point Bulldogs lead into a 29-24 halftime deficit.

"We were getting the ball in the middle, which is in the key against Cal, because they're going to kill you with traps on the sideline," PEM coach Jason Herber said. "We just kind of hit the wall there and I blame myself, I should have subbed more early on and gave the starters a breath."

After Stevens had the nice start, the Warriors switched from having Eli King guarding him to Chris Peiper. It allowed Eli to do what he does best: Cause havoc on the perimeter.

Soon, the Caledonia defense extended up to half court with the hope of limiting touches for Stevens. It worked to perfection as Stevens finished with 11 points after the hot start.

"We knew (Stevens) was going to be a challenge for us," coach Brad King said. "We didn't handle it very well to start with. ... that's our downfall. We really don't have a — even Chris, who plays our five, — he's only 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. But once we moved him and made the little adjustment of how hard we were going to pressure the ball, making it hard to pass to (Stevens). It felt like the first nine minutes it was going to be OK, but by minute 26, I'm just glad I don't want have to play against our defense."

The Caledonia defensive pressure was only cranked up an extra notch in the second half.

The Warriors were simply relentless and at times, it felt like they had six guys on the court.

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Soon, the lead was up to 10, then 19, then 23 in matter of minutes.

"They just blitzed us," Herber said. "It just snowballed from there on both ends of the court."

With a senior backcourt, the Bulldogs had entered with just an average of nine turnovers per game, but found themselves well above that mark Tuesday night. When the Warriors get easy points in transition and then can set up their full-court press, it's often a long night for the opponent.

"That just shows you how good Caledonia's pressure defense," Herber said. "They just got us flustered. ... The only chance you have against them is to make them beat you in the half court, because once Caledonia gets out and running, I don't think there is anyone in the state that can beat them."

But it was the ending of that first half that really set the tone.

"I think our first half kind of wore them down and tired them out," Eli King said. "They don't have a ton of guards that can handle it really well, so I think tiring out the ones that do was big. We got up 10 and they called a timeout and we still came out with the same energy to go up I think 18.

"It's just big to get easy baskets and in the half court, they play really well defensively."

Eli King led all scorers with 22 points with a number of rim-shaking dunks, while Ja'shon Simpson scored 17 and Jackson Koepke finished with 14 for the Warriors, who kicked off a tough week with an impressive victory.

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The Warriors now host rival and Class A's No. 4-ranked team in Rushford-Peterson Thursday, before traveling to take on Totino-Grace — the No. 1 team in Class AAA Saturday.

"We have a tough stretch coming up," Brad King said. "Rushford should probably be ranked higher but they play all these bigger schools. They are always there and play that unique style. So you go from playing this style to playing Rushford and then Totino-Grace on Saturday.

"It will be a good test."

As for the Bulldogs, they will have a chance to bounce back when they host a now fully healthy Lewiston-Altura team on Thursday. The Cardinals appear back to full strength after dealing with a handful of COVID-19 related absences.

"We will learn from this," Herber said. "I told the guys after the game here that it's only game 15 of 26. We can't overreact from this. The biggest thing you can't do is have Caledonia beat you twice. That's the key. We have a monster one in Lewiston on Thursday, which is perfect for us because we need a big game to come back to and just forget about this one."

The Bulldogs will need to bounce back mentally, because, physicially, they still have all the makings to make a deep postseason run.

"They have a very nice team," Brad King said. "We executed well in the second half so it was tough to score on us. They're undefeated for a reason. They are going to have every opportunity to be playing in the last day of the section."

Caledonia 71, Plainview-Elgin-Millville 43
PLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE (43)
Baylor Hagen 2 P; Baden Fenton 5 P, 1 3-PT; Connor McGuire 11 P, 2 3-PT; Aeron Stevens 11 P; Peyton Schumacher 10 P, 2 3-PT; Kaiden Peters 2 P; John Evers 2 P.
CALEDONIA (71)
Chris Peiper 6 P; Eli King 22 P; Lewis Doyle 2 P; Jackson Koepke 14 P, 2 3-PT; Austin Meyer 4 P; Ja’shon Simpson 17 P; Caleb Conniff 2 P; Thane Meiners 4 P.
Halftime: CAL 29, PEM 24.
Free throws: PEM 6-12, CAL 7-11.
Three-point goals: PEM 5, CAL 2.

Related Topics: BOYS BASKETBALLBASKETBALLCALEDONIAPLAINVIEW-ELGIN-MILLVILLE
Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at avandenhouten@postbulletin.com.
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