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Apr. 8—Caledonia is back in the Class AA state championship game.

The Warriors will play for the Class AA state title after holding off Minneapolis North 60-55 in the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon at Target Center.

Caledonia led 30-21 at the half and then 43-30 at one point in the second half.

North, the No. 1 seed from the North, was within two points with 32.7 seconds left, but Caledonia closed the game 5-for-6 at the line to hold off the Polars.

“It was a heck of a battle and they’re a fantastic basketball team and they can pressure unlike any other team,” Caledonia coach Brad King said. “I thought our guys battled and did a good job executing at the end of the game.”

Caledonia (23-1), the No. 2 seed from the South, has won 21 straight games. The Warriors reached the Class AA state finals in both 2018 and 2015, but suffered a loss each time.

“It was just really nice advancing,” Caledonia senior guard Austin Klug said. “We live by survive-and-advance and I guess we did that.”

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

The bloody dive

Caledonia appeared to have the game wrapped up with a 53-44 lead with 2:59 to play. But North went on a 9-2 run to pull within 55-53 with just 51 seconds to play.

It looked like North would get a chance to tie the game when the Warriors missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with 32 seconds left.

North controlled the rebound, but as the Polars neared half court, Caledonia 6-foot-5 senior center Casey Schultz made a diving attempt and knocked the ball loose for a turnover. Schultz, who will play football at North Dakota, was landed on by 6-7 Davon Townley, who will play football at Penn State. Schultz had been bloodied just minutes earlier when he took an elbow to the head while making an inside basket.

“That’s him,” King said of Schultz. “He’s as competitive of a kid as I’ve ever coached and he was willing to lay it all on the line by diving to give us one more possession. And that’s a huge thing, where they think they can tie it or go ahead. And all of a sudden we have the ball back.”

The steal led to two free throws by Andrew Kunelius and a 57-53 lead.

More big free throws, plays

After North pulled within 57-55 with 16.2 seconds left, 6-8 Caledonia senior Sam Privet was fouled with 12.6 seconds to play.

Privet made one free throw for a 58-55 lead. Privet then had a big rebound off a missed North shot, a 2-pointer, with 4.1 seconds left. Privet nailed both free throws to seal the win, and for the final two points of the game.

“Austin missed the front end of a one-and-one, but after that we knocked down the ones we needed to,” King said.

Caledonia finished the game 11-for-17 at the line as Privet, Kunelius and Jackson Koepke were all 3-for-4.

“It got a little shaky at the end there, but throughout the whole end we knew what we had to do to extend the game and keep it in our favor,” Klug said.

The Warriors had six players score in the game and they all had between seven and 14 points. Five players had between four and eight rebounds.

“I think we were as balanced as we’ve been all year,” King said. “Everybody did their share of rebounding, their share of scoring and being in the right spot defensively. So again, I think it was a great example of our team over individuals.”

Klug solid’s all-around game

Klug, a 6-5 guard, gave North fits as he was able to muscle inside on a number of occasions.

Klug finished with a strong overall game as he had a team-high 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.

His inside basket with 1:22 left gave Caledonia a 55-49 lead and was the Warriors’ lone hoop in North’s 9-2 run.

Guards Koepek (13 points), Kunelius (seven points) and backup Ja’Shon Simpson (11 points) combined for 31 more points.

“We knew all their guards were a lot smaller than us,” Klug said. “Me Ja’Shon, Jackson and Andrew all used our size inside. We just worked our way down inside and when we got the chance we put it up, and usually in, so that’s what worked out for us.”

That’s good defense

Caledonia opened the game with stellar defense and it stayed that way for much of the contest. The Warriors forced seven turnovers in the first 4:30 of the game and nine in the first half.

North has a pair of 6-7 starters but the Warriors clogged the lane and played great help defense.

“Clearly it was our defense,” King said. “I think if we play good defense obviously we have the opportunity to win every basketball game. And our execution on the defensive end was a team effort.”

Caledonia finished with one more turnover (17 to 16), but held a 21-12 scoring advantage on fastbreak points.

The Polars were 0-for-7 from 3-point range the first half and just 1-for-18 in the game. North had so little faith in its ability to make a 3-pointer that the Polar went inside for a 2-point attempt with under 10 seconds to play, despite trailing 58-55.

“I don’t know if I was surprised,” King said. “I’ve seen a few teams do it. I think they just didn’t remember that they were out of timeouts. … We knew they were out of timeouts so we weren’t going to in-bounds the ball (if North had made a basket).”

North was held to 21 points under its season average as it entered averaging 76.8 points per game.

“They’re very good at getting to the rim and we made it very difficult,” King said.

“It was mostly about defense and limiting their second chances,” Klug said. “I think we did a pretty good job of that at the end of the game and throughout the game.”

Strong off the bench

Ja’Shon Simpson, a 6-foot-3 guard, came off the bench to give Caledonia a big lift in the first half. Simpson used his large frame to get inside for four buckets in the first half to provide the Warriors with eight big points. Simpson had a pair of early baskets as Caledonia opened the game with a 10-0 run.

Then after North rallied to tie the game at 12-12, Simpson put the Warriors ahead for good with a basket with 8:34 left in the half.

“Ja’Shon gave us a huge first half by going and doing the things that he does in practice, which we knew would work against North,” King said. “He can get into the paint, he jumps well off of two feet and he’s got all kinds of left hand, right hand up-and-under stuff. I thought he was huge for us off the bench.”

Simpson finished with 11 points and had a big free throw with 3:11 left to complete a 3-point play. Schultz was fouled and scored a basket on the play, but he had to leave as he was dripping blood after receiving an elbow to the head.

Up next: Caledonia advances to the title game on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Target Center and will play Waseca, the No. 1 seed from the South.

Caledonia 60, Minneapolis North 55


Clifford Brown III 6 P, 1 3-PT; Andre Gray II 12 P, 4 R; Willie Wilson 8 P, 4 A, 4 S; Davon Townley Jr. 19 P, 10 R; Marcus Owens 2 P, 4 R; Mario Sanders 4 P; J.Butler 2 P.


Jackson Koepke 13 P, 4 R, 2 3-PT; Casey Schultz 7 P, 4 R; Austin Klug 14 P, 8 R, 4 A, 4 S, 1 3-PT; Andrew Kunelius 7 P, 6 R, 4 A; Ja’Shon Simpson 11 P; Sam Privet 7 P, 6 R, 2 BK; Thane Meiners 0 P.

Halftime: CAL 30, MN 21.

Free throws: MN 6-11, CAL 11-17. Field goals: MN 24-54, CAL 23-51.

Three-point goals: MN 1, CAL 3. Rebounds: MN 32, CAL 34. Turnovers: MN 16, CAL 17.