The Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, the No. 1 seed in the Section 1A  boys basketball tournament met their Gopher Conference rival, the No. 2 seeded Hayfield Vikings for the right to head to the State Class A boys’ basketball tournament Thursday night at the Mayo Civic Arena in Rochester.  The Blossoms, who led 31-28 at the half never trailed in the second stanza as Gabe Hagen tallied 23 points, five rebounds and four assists to help lead Blooming Prairie to their first trip to the state tournament since 1966 with a 59-51 win.

Hayfield jumped out to an early 9-4 lead courtesy of 6’7″ senior center Luke Dudycha, who scored the first six points of the game for the Vikings.  Blooming Prairie responded by putting the ball into the hands of Hagen, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half by driving the ball to the basket, and they rallied from the early deficit with not only three baskets from Hagen, but also two 3-pointers from senior guard Kaden Thomas and a basket from the right block from sophomore Drew Kittleson to go on a 16-6 run to take a 20-15 lead.  The Blossoms pushed their lead to seven at 22-15, but Hayfield answered back with a 9-1 run of their own to edge their way back in front 24-23.  A free throw gave the Vikings a 25-23 lead, but a layup for guard Isaac Ille off of a feed from Hagen, a short jumper and a hoop off of a drive to the basket by Hagen and a floater from forward Zach Weber keyed an 8-3 Blooming Prairie run to end the first half and gave the Blossoms a 31-28 lead at the break.

Blooming Prairie came out strong to start the second half and used a 9-3 to take their biggest lead of the game of nine points at 40-31, the run being capped off by a 3-pointer from Thomas.  The Vikings later rallied to cut the lead to as close as four points at 47-43 on a 3-pointer by Slaathaug, but BP would let Hayfield get no closer and a three-pointer from Kittleson with 6:40 left pushed the Blossom lead back to nine at 52-43.  Blooming Prairie still led by seven at 52-45 with 3:59 to go, and the Blossoms were able to do just enough from the free throw line down the stretch, plus guard Tyler Archer and Kittleson came down with huge offensive rebounds to give Blooming Prairie second chances.  The Blossoms defense also clamped down even more on Hayfield in the final minutes, giving the Vikings few good looks at the hoop on their way to the win.

Besides Hagen, the Blossoms were led by Thomas, who tallied 14 points, eight of those in the second half, Kittleson wound up with 11 points, nine rebounds and three block shots, all in the second half, Parker Vaith scored five points and Ille, Archer and Weber all added two points apiece.  For Hayfield, Slaathaug wound up with 21 points, Dudycha tallied a double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds, sophomore Easton Fritcher tallied nine points, five rebounds and four assists and freshman Isaac Matti added four points and four rebounds.

Blooming Prairie advances to state with a record of 25-3, while Hayfield closes out a stellar season with a record of 24-6.  With the COVID-19 coronavirus situation changing in Minnesota by the hour, the Blossoms are hoping to open the State Class A boys’ basketball tournament next Thursday at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota against an opponent yet to be determined.  If the tournament does move forward, the Minnesota State High School League announced Thursday that they will limit the number of people at tournaments beginning Friday, March 13th, which will impact not only section boys basketball games, but also the State Girls Basketball Semi-Finals and Finals.  The High School League added that all state and section championship brackets will be played, and consolation and third place games for state girls basketball will be cancelled.

Attendance at tournaments is now limited to rostered participants, coaches, event staff, TV network partners, credentialed media and a small number of school-approved spectators of each participating team.