Junior point guard Cole Kruger tries to score inside against St. Peter.
By David Richards
They last made it in 2001, head coach Chris Pack's first season at the helm.
Now, a dozen years later, the Hayfield boys basketball players are headed back to the state tournament after beating St. Peter in the Section 2AA final March 15 in Mankato.
The No. 3-seed Vikings (22-7) will face Esko High School (26-4) March 20 at 8 p.m. at Williams Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
"It's definitely been a fun year, culminating with a state tournament trip," Pack said. "The kids deserve it; they've worked hard to get there."
Hayfield won four-straight games in the section tournament, including the final two by a combined seven points.
Against St. Peter, the Vikings led 29-19 at the half and used their stifling defense to seal the victory.
"Our last three games, it was all about defense," Pack said. "It's where we won it."
Junior forward Jeremy Stuart led Hayfield with 21 points, while junior guard Cole Kruger added 16. Senior forward Brady Kramer finished with 10.
In the state tournament, the Vikings will look to continue their strong defensive play as Esko has scored 70 or more points this season 17 times, including two games of more than 90 points and one contest where it racked up more than 100.
Hayfield has scored 70 or more points six times this season.
"They have put up a lot of points throughout the year," Pack said. "Although their scoring has gone down when their level of competition has gone up ... we certainly need to slow them down. They want the score in the 70s, we want it in the 50s, so we'll see what happens."
If Hayfield gets past the first round, it will then meet the winner of Redwood Valley and No. 2-seed Litchfield.
Make it all the way to the finals, and there's a chance, the Vikings could see fellow league opponent Byron, which drew a No. 4 seed.
"Obviously we would love that," Pack said. "It would be great for us and great for them. It would be kind of neat to do that. We have a lot of respect for (head coach) Kerry Linbo and that program."
Besides 2001 and this year, the Hayfield boys basketball team also made it to state in 1967 and 1968, when Minnesota had just one class, similar to the tournament style featured in the film, "Hoosiers."