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Stewartville holds off Byron to repeat as Section 1-3A champions in boys basketball

Mar. 15—ROCHESTER — It wasn't easy, but misson accomplished for the Stewartville boys basketball team.

The Tigers earned a state berth for the second straight year as they defeated rival Byron 66-56 in the Section 1, Class 3A boys basketball title game Friday at Mayo Civic Arena.

"It never gets old," Stewartville senior Henry Tschetter said. "We went last year for the first time and I'm just as excited this year. It's a dream come true and we're ready to keep rolling."

Earning a trip back to the state tournament had been Stewartville's season-long goal.

"We're excited. That was the goal from Day One," Stewartville coach Parker Lyga said. "We set our goals, we didn't want to look too far ahead. We were looking at a conference championship, win game one in the playoffs. Now we know what it's like, we have no excuses this year."

The Tigers certainly didn't breeze their way to a section championship, however. Top section seed Stewartville had beaten No. 2 Byron twice during the regular season in Hiawatha Valley League play. Stewartville rolled each time, posting 68-55 and 65-29 victories.

But with a state berth on the line, the two teams played a close, hard-fought and physical affair.

"We knew we weren't going to beat them by 30 again," Tschetter said. "(Max) Dearborn was back and they just hit more shots and played tougher defense."

Stewartville did lead by as many as 10 points in the first half but the lead was just four at the break.

The Bears made a run in the second half even though their two big 6-foot-6 inside players — senior Zach Vanderpool and junior Colin Hansen — both had four fouls with more than 11 minutes to play.

"It was a super physical game and I'm proud of our kids," Byron coach Kyle Finney said. "They bought into the game plan of what we needed to get done. They (the Tigers) just hit a few more shots down the stretch."

Byron rallied and pulled within 50-49 when senior Tyler Connelly hit a 3-pointer with 5:01 to play. Senior Tegan Malone countered with a three for Stewartville on its next possession.

"I feel like we've been here quite a few times so we can be cool in these big-time games," Malone said. "So we just take a deep breath and hit those big shots when we need to."

Connelly, who finished with 19 points, hit another jumper to cut the deficit to 55-52 with 3:35 left. But the Bears (21-8) hit just two more shots the rest of the way and the Tigers made enough free throws down the stretch to pull away and win their 20th straight game.

The Tigers were 11-of-17 from the line in the second half. They also shot 14-for-27 from the floor over the final 18 minutes. Tschetter scored 12 points in the second half and was 4-for-4 at the line.

"We made some free throws and played good defense," Tschetter said. "We've prided ourselves on defense all year."

Stewartville has allowed the fewest points among Class 3A teams all season and it is second in the state overall, allowing less than 48 per game.

The Tigers switched to a zone defense late in the second half, which gave Byron trouble. The Bears were 4-for-13 on 3-point tries in the second half.

"We just kind of struggled down the stretch," Finney said.

"We knew we couldn't keep giving up easy buckets," Malone said. "We knew we had to hunker down the last three or four minutes and really get a couple of stops."

Lyga was confident the Tigers would pull through. He noted the tough non-conference schedule the team played, going against seven ranked teams. Plus, Stewartville has big-game experience from last year's section title run and play at the state tournament, where they placed fifth.

"Now we're starting to hit our stride," Lyga said. "We're starting to play really good basketball."

Malone hit four triples and led Stewartville with 15 points. Tschetter had 14 points and nine rebounds while junior Parker Wangen made three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 13 points.

"We don't really like Byron," Malone said. "They're our neighboring town and they're always good so we always want to beat them."

Dearborn, who like Wangen missed the previous game in the series, finished with 12 points and nine rebounds for Byron.

In the Section 1-4A championship game held earlier in the evening at Mayo Civic Arena, No. 2 Farmington defeated No. 1 Lakeville North 70-59 to earn a state berth. Junior guard Ryan Beckwith led Farmington with 26 points.

Stewartville 66, Byron 56

No. 2 BYRON (56)

Fisher Kruckeberg 3 P, 1 3-PT; Will Brian 7 P; Tyler Connelly 19 P, 8 R, 2 3-PT; Colin Hansen 4 P, 8 R; Zach Vanderpool 7 P, 5 R; Max Dearborn 12 P, 9 R, 3 3-PT; Aiden Gross 4 P.

No. 1 STEWARTVILLE (66)

Parker Wangen 13 P, 3 3-PT; Henry Tschetter 14 P, 9; Ayden Helder 5 P; Caleb Jannsen 5 P; Tegan Malone 15 P, 4 R, 4 3-PT; Jason Shindelar 9 P, 10 R, 1 3-PT; Caleb Bancroft 5 P, 4 R.

Halftime: STEW 24, BYR 20.

Free throws: BYR 10-17, STEW 12-19. Field goals: BYR 20-54, STEW 23-51.

Three-point goals: BYR 6, STEW 8. Rebounds: BYR 33, STEW 33. Turnovers: BYR 14, STEW 10.