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Unlucky draw, but Stewartville ready to take on No. 1 Totino-Grace in Class 3A state tournament

Mar. 18—STEWARTVILLE — Winning a state championship is never easy, but Stewartville's path to a Class 3A title in boys basketball became a bit tougher because of the seedings in the eight-team field.

The Tigers are 26-3, ranked No. 4 in the state and have the No. 5 QRF among Class 3A teams. And yet they did not receive one of the top five seeds in the field. They are one of three unseeded teams and despite their credentials, the Tigers drew No. 1 Totino-Grace (24-5) in the state quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Williams.

"That's a testament to a flawed system," Stewartville coach Parker Lyga said.

The Tigers are going in with the mentality that they have to beat the best teams to be the state champion. But now their path becomes tougher due to the luck of the draw.

"We have a really good team, we have a chance to play the No. 1 team in the state and we're looking forward to the opportunity," Lyga said.

The Tigers were anticipating getting a No. 4 or 5 seed. That would have meant a date with Totino-Grace in the state semifinals if both teams advanced.

"What we were predicting is we were hoping to see them in the second round," Lyga said. "So what's the difference in seeing them in round one compared to round two?"

Stewartville is making a state appearance for the second straight year, the first two state berths in school history.

In the state quarterfinals a year ago, the Tigers faced No. 2 seed DeLaSalle and suffered just a five-point loss despite turning the ball over 22 times.

Stewartville is hoping last year's state experience pays dividends. It won the consolation title (fifth place) in 2023 after falling in the first round.

"I think that will help a lot," Stewartville senior Tegan Malone said of the state experience. "It's fun to play on those big stages, but we know there is a lot more business this year, because we want to do better."

The Tigers have a veteran team with seven players back who played key roles at the state tournament last season.

"Our boys are focused and dialed in," Lyga said. "This isn't anything that they're nervous about. They want the challenge."

Most of the team's top players were also members of Stewartville's football team that won a state championship last fall.

"This year we're hoping to win it all," Stewartville senior Henry Tschetter said. "We have the guys to do it, we have the experience and we're ready to make a run."

Of course a major challenge looms in the state opener. Totino-Grace plays an uptempo offense and it likes to get out in transition. It is tied for second among Class 3A teams, averaging 84.1 points per game.

"They will not be scoring 85 points on Wednesday, I'll tell you that right now," Lyga said.

Stewartville prides itself on defense. The Tigers are second in the state as they allow a meager 45.9 points per game. The Tigers average 70.8 points per game and Totino-Grace allows 65.2 per contest.

"They play a style of basketball that's very similar to what we play," Lyga said. "Very aggressive, very in-your-face. To be honest, I don't mind the matchup."

Lyga said the key for Stewartville will be taking care of the basketball and knocking down open shots.

Totino-Grace has at least two Division I players on its squad. Isaiah Johnson-Arigu, a 6-foot-7 senior, averages 19.3 points per game and he is headed to the University of Miami in Florida.

Dothan Ijadimbola (13.5 points per game), a 6-6 forward, is the top-ranked sophomore in the state while 6-6 Tyler Wagner (13.6 points per game) is one of the top-ranked juniors. Point guard Chace Watley (12.9 points per game) also averages in double figures. Tian Chatman (9.9 points per game) is another highly regarded sophomore and he is 6-4.

During the regular season, Stewartville did beat a Benilde-St. Margaret's team which featured several future Division I players.

The Tigers also have good size in 6-7 junior Caleb Bancroft, 6-5 seniors Caleb Jannsen and Jason Shidelar, the 6-4 Tschetter, 6-4 junior Parker Wangen and the 6-3 Malone.

Tschetter averages 16.7 points per game for the Tigers and Malone averages 11.8 points. Wangen and Bancroft both average 9.5 points per game.

The Stewartville and Totino-Grace winner will advance to the state semifinals at 12 p.m. Thursday at Williams Arena. The loser slips into the consolation bracket. The Class 3A championship game is 1 p.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.

"Last year there were some first-year jitters and this year we're ready to go because we've been there before," Tschetter said.

Class 3A state pairings