MINNEAPOLIS — Waseca’s body blows paid off down the stretch as the Bluejays defeated Fergus Falls 72-58 in the Minnesota Class 2A state boys basketball tournament semifinals.
The Otters pulled within seven points 55-48 midway through the second half, but it took every ounce of energy they had left to get them there. The Bluejays answered with a 13-1 run to put the game out of reach 68-49 as Fergus Falls went 6 minutes, 30 seconds without a field goal.
“They wore us out,” Fergus Falls coach Matt Johnson said. “Guys logged big minutes. We gave a lot of run outs to the top of the key and turnovers that let them get into transition. Those were big body blows. Every time we had to go in transition, it wore us out. That impacts your shooting and your scoring.”
Waseca forced Fergus Falls to pick its poison with their high-powered trio of Kyreese Willingham, Ryan Dufault and Mr. Basketball finalist Andrew Morgan. Morgan and Dufault are committed to play Division I basketball — Morgan at North Dakota State and Dufault at St. Thomas — and Willingham is committed to play Division II basketball at Minnesota State Mankato.
The 6-foot-9 Morgan led the Bluejays with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Willingham scored 21 points with five assists, three steals, and two blocks and was 4-for-9 on 3-point tries. Dufault scored 13 points with a team-high seven assists.
Waseca is 23-1 this season with its lone loss coming against Class 3A power Minnehaha Academy and its superstar center Chet Holmgren, the No. 1 ranked basketball prospect in the country.
“(Defending those three) is a huge challenge,” Johnson said. “You feel like you can take away one or two of them. But you have to pick your poison and when they all make shots, that’s tough.”
Fergus Falls 7-foot big man Chance Fazio went to battle inside against Morgan and kept his team in the game much of the way. He tallied 20 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and four assists. He’ll play his college basketball across the Red River from Morgan at Minnesota State Moorhead.
In the first half, he scored nine straight Fergus Falls points to pull it within a possession at 16-13. He scored five points in an 8-0 run midway through the second half that pulled the Otters within seven points, capping that run with an and-1 with 9:17 to go.
“I thought he was unbelievable. He played fearless,” Johnson said. “He went toe-to-toe with one of the top players in the state in Morgan. I thought Fazio was right there with him and competed. For people who didn’t get a chance to see him and didn’t know who he was, I think he staked his claim at being one of the better players in the state tonight.”
Otters senior Dominic Aguilar had 14 points and six assists. The University of Mary commit is normally a reliable perimeter shooter, who made a buzzer-beating 3 in the quarterfinals, but his shots didn’t fall in the semifinal. He shot 6-for-23 from the floor including 2-for-13 from behind the arc. As a team, the Otters were 7-for-26 on 3-point tries.
This year’s senior class of Aguilar, Fazio, Abel Aho, Austin Rinke, Bryce Burrill, Dallas Barry, and Jack Vogl wrapped their careers as one of the most successful classes in Otters history. They are the fourth team in school history to make a state semifinal game. They had a combined record of 41-12 in the last two seasons as upperclassmen. They had their junior season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic before they could play in the section championship game.
“Dominic Aguilar as the leader of that crew has given so much to Otter basketball and been such a great leader,” Johnson said. “Other guys like Fazio and Aho are tremendous players. And the rest of the guys. These are guys that show up and work and I am incredibly grateful to have been their coach.”
Half: Waseca 44, Fergus Falls 30
W: Willingham 21, Dufault 13, Hoehn 6, Morgan 24, Seberson 8.
FF: Fazio 20, Aho 2, Newman 11, Aguilar 14, Conklin 5, Pribbenow 6.