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It's back-to-back as Hayfield repeats as Class A state champions

No. 1 seed Hayfield hits its free throws down the stretch to nip No. 2 Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the Class A boys basketball state title game on Saturday.

Hayfield State Basketball
Hayfield's Zander Jacobson (3) goes up for a shot during the Class A state boys basketball championship game against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Hayfield repeated as state champs with a 51-49 victory.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

MINNEAPOLIS — When it really mattered, the Hayfield boys basketball team shot free throws like a champion. And as a result, the Vikings are again state champions.

Coach Chris Pack had been less than thrilled with the Vikings' performance at the line in the Class A state semifinals. Sure, the Vikings defeated Cherry 72-61, but they were just 14-for-29 at the line.

But with another state championship at stake, the Vikings excelled at the line on Saturday at Williams Arena. Hayfield earned its second straight Class A state championship with a nail-biting 51-49 win over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa.

View photos of Hayfield's 51-49 win over Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa in the Class A state boys basketball championship.

“It feels great,” Hayfield senior forward Easton Fritcher said.

Hayfield junior Isaac Matti led the charge for the Vikings with 27 points, and he carried the team in the second half until others stepped up in the closing minutes.

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The Vikings (32-2) scored their final seven points at the line, which started with the game tied at 44 with 2:16 to play.

Zander Jacobson, who sat out 7 minutes in the first half with an ankle injury, broke the tie with a free throw. There was no more scoring until the final 32 seconds. Fritcher, who shot about 50% at the line this season, then made two free throws to put Hayfield up 47-44.

Hayfield State Basketball
Hayfield's Easton Fritcher (4) shoots during the Class A state boys basketball championship game against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

“I’m not the greatest free-throw shooter,” Fritcher admitted.

“I have the confidence, I know I can make them,” he added. “It doesn’t always show in the stat line, but I needed to step up, so I just took a deep breath and I sunk them.”

Senior guard Kobe Foster followed with a huge steal seconds later and drained two free throws with 12.2 seconds left for a 49-44 lead.

Hayfield was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA all season, and the Vikings delivered a state title by nipping Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa 51-49 in the championship game.

“I just had to put my mind to it,” Foster said. “I went 1-for-4 (in the semifinals), so I knew I was kind of letting the team down. So I just knew I had to step up in a big moment and put two points on the board.”

After B-B-E (28-5) hit a bucket with 8.2 seconds left, Ethan Pack was fouled. Pack sealed Hayfield's win with two free throws with 3.7 seconds left to make the scored 51-46. The Jaguars then hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final two-point margin.

Foster and Pack had not scored until their clutch free throws in the closing seconds. Pack, who had a team-high 25 and 19 points in the first two rounds at state, was battling an earache.

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Hayfield State Basketball
Hayfield's Isaac Matti, left, shoots during the Class A state boys basketball championship game against Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on Saturday, March 26, 2022 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Matti scored 27 points, 17 in the second half, as Hayfield defended its state title with a 51-49 victory.
Andrew Link / Post Bulletin

It was Matti who gave Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa a headache in the second half. The 6-foot-2 junior guard led the balanced Vikings in scoring all season long, and he stepped up in a big way over the final 18 minutes.

Hayfield struggled at times in the first half as Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa took a 10-point lead at one point and still led 29-21 at the break.

But then Matti hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the second half and Hayfield was right back in the game.

“If he doesn’t hit those two threes to start the second half, it could have been a completely different game,” Fritcher said. “The momentum shift could have been crazy. We tried to get him the ball as much as we could.”

Southeast Minnesota high schools have won their share of Minnesota State High School League state tournament titles. Here's a list of team championships by school according to MSHSL record books.

The Vikings kept feeding Matti, who's grandfather is a former head boys basketball coach at Hayfield. And he delivered in a big way. Matti scored 17 of Hayfield's first 19 points in the second half and he assisted on the other bucket.

“We knew we were going to face adversity sometimes during the year,” Matti said. “We all trust each other. I knew it was probably time to start hitting a couple of big shots, and I did it and got us back in the game.”

Matti hit a trio of 3-pointers in the second half and had six of Hayfield's eight field goals after intermission.

The Jaguars used a 6-0 run to take a 44-42 lead with just under 4 minutes left. But Hayfield tied the game on its next possession as Fritcher scored on a lob from Pack.

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Hayfield never trailed again as it played tough defense on the Jaguars in the closing minutes while going 7-for-8 at the line. Hayfield finished 10-for-12 at the line and also battled B-B-E tough on the boards as both teams had 28 rebounds.

“I just thought we rebounded better in the second half,” Chris Pack said.

Fritcher had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Jacobson had seven points and five rebounds.

Notes: B-B-E head coach Chris Anderson is married to former Kenyon-Wanamingo star Kristina Lurken. She is the head girls basketball coach at B-B-E. Matti, Fritcher and Ethan Pack were selected to the Class A All-Tournament Team.

Complete boxscore: https://www.mshsl.org/sites/default/files/2022-03/2022%20BBB%20A%20CHAMP.pdf

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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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