By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Don’t ever count the Warriors out. 

After trailing Plainview-Elgin-Millville for nearly the entire Section 1AA Championship game, Caledonia tied the Bulldogs at 55-all with seconds left in regulation play, then battled on through three overtime periods to a 72-61 win over the No. 2 seed. The victory sent the Warriors (27-1) to a third-straight appearance in the Minnesota Class AA State Basketball Tournament.

In a tough defensive struggle, the Bulldogs led by as many as 15 points (32-17) late in the first half, hitting six shots from beyond the arc. PEM’s Aeron Stevens, a 6-6 junior forward, made four of those treys, including an impressive three in a row from downtown. But Caledonia finished the first half with a comeback, challenging PEM ball handlers with a full-court press and out-scoring the Bulldogs 9-0 in the last minutes before the break.

Caledonia continued to attack the boards in the second half, keeping within striking distance. Relentless defensive pressure left few open looks for PEM, and the Warriors closed to within two points (50-48) on a Ja’Shon Simpson jumper with just under five minutes left on the clock. 

But the Bulldogs still had plenty of bite left. PEM extended their lead to six points (54-48) on a Peyton Schumacher free throw with just 22 seconds left to play. Senior guard Eli King was then fouled on a three-point attempt, and hit 2 of 3 from the line (54-50). After a time out, King intercepted a pass and scored again almost immediately, drawing a foul. He then completed a three-point play the old-fashioned way, and the Bulldog lead was abruptly cut to a single point (54-53) with 13 seconds left. 

Caledonia then fouled Stevens to keep PEM from running out the clock, and he sank one of two free throws with 11 seconds remaining, putting the Bulldogs up by two. But King drove into the lane with about four seconds remaining, and tied the game 55-55. A last-second half court attempt for the win by Schumacher narrowly missed, and Caledonia had sent the game into overtime.  

Three overtime periods – each lasting four minutes – were required to crown a section champion.

Caledonia nearly won it as the last seconds of the first overtime ticked away in a 57-57 tie, but a couple of shots just wouldn’t drop. In the second overtime, King hit a two-pointer from the lane to break the ice, but a well-placed dish to Bulldog Kaiden Peters tied the game at 59-all with two minutes left. PEM fouled Thane Meiners after that Warrior lifted a steal, and he headed for the foul line and put Caledonia up 60-59. Then after a miss by the Bulldogs, PEM fouled King to keep Caledonia from running out the last 20 seconds on the clock. 

King canned a free throw at that point, and Caledonia led by two (61-59). Bulldog senior Connor McGuire was fouled as the second OT ran down, but he tied the game from the charity line (61-61) with 7.3 seconds on the clock. Caledonia got off another shot and tip-in attempt for the win just before the buzzer, but once again the ball didn’t roll in. 

The third overtime was different, as a now-tired set of Bulldogs couldn’t get any of their shots to drop, including free throws. Caledonia responded with solid rebounding and some nifty passing, running off an 11-0 run, including baskets from Jackson Koepke, King, and Simpson. 

Caledonia was recently ranked No. 1 in Class AA, while PEM was ranked at No. 4, so the grueling game resembled a state tournament match-up. The Warriors were led by Eli King (30 points, 13 rebounds). Ja’Shon Simpson totaled 14 points, with 6 rebounds. Jackson Koepke added 11 points, Thane Meiners 8, Brett Schultz 4, Lewis Doyle 3, and Austin Meyer 2. The Bulldogs were led by Aeron Stevens (27 points, 12 rebounds). 

The Warriors hit 22 of 54 field goals, while the Bulldogs sank 21 of 47. Caledonia also made a solid 21 of 24 free throws, while PEM only scored on 11 of 17 free throw attempts. Rebounds were close (34 for PEM and 31 for Caledonia). PEM committed 21 turnovers, while Caledonia only had 14. 

The Warriors were awarded the No. 2 seed at the Minnesota Class AA State Tournament, and were scheduled to take on Perham High School in the quarterfinals round on March 22 at 6 p.m. The venue is the Target Center, 600 N 1st Ave., Minneapolis. The winner of the game will play the winner of the (No. 3) Annandale vs. Pequot Lakes contest. That semifinal game is scheduled for Friday, March 25, at 8 p.m. in Williams Arena (1925 University Ave., SE, Minneapolis). The championship game will take place on Saturday, March 26, at 1 p.m., also at Williams Arena.

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