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BP wins Gopher title, earns No. 1 seed

Blooming Prairie, basketball, state
Left to right: Blooming Prairie’s Jacob Pauly, Gabe Staloch, Brady Kittelson, Gabe Hein, Zach Hein, Cooper Cooke and Kolby Vigeland stand with the Gopher Conference championship trophy after beating JWP 61-59. See page B2 for more on the Awesome Blossoms’ big win. PHOTO COURTESY ELI LUTGENS – NRHEG STAR EAGLE
By
Johnnie Phillips, Sports Editor

Blooming Prairie boys basketball’s dream season continued last week with wins over Hayfield, Kenyon-Wanamingo (KW) and JWP, earning the Awesome Blossoms a Gopher Conference championship and No. 1 seed in sections.

Blooming Prairie’s big week started with a 68-39 beatdown over Hayfield before the team secured its No. 1 seed by beating the Knights 65-57.

However, the highlight of the week was undoubtedly the team’s 11-point comeback against JWP, which saw the Awesome Blossoms win 61-59 on a buzzer-beater shot from guard Brady Kittelson.

“Our boys really buckled down on defense. We went with a little 1-3-1 zone that caused them a few problems. We got a few stops there and then executed really well on offense. Our boys got to the rim and made some key shots,” said Blooming Prairie head coach Cam Rutledge.

Hardly a seat was left available in Blooming Prairie’s new gym for the home team’s big win.

“It was awesome. The last handful of weeks here, the community has really been coming out in full force to support the boys. From what I was told, the line went all the way out the doors into the parking lot. We had a shoot around until about 6 p.m., and as soon as our boys got off the court, people were already pouring in about an hour before the game,” said Rutledge.

Both sides battled back and forth for most of the first half and found themselves tied at 20-20 before the game’s first big run shook up the score.

With just four minutes remaining, JWP went on a 15-6 run to lead 35-26 at halftime in hostile territory.

As has been the case for Blooming Prairie this season, early adversity was not enough to keep the Awesome Blossoms at bay.

Blooming Prairie still trailed by 11 points with 12:30 left in the game but chipped away at the Bulldogs to cut that lead to 59-55 with just 2:19 to go.

Blooming Prairie eventually tied the game at 59-59 with 1:02 left in the game, and some strong defense forced a critical shot clock violation from the Bulldogs to give the home team the potential last possession of the game.

After taking a timeout to discuss a play, Rutledge decided to call Kittelson’s number for the game-winning shot attempt.

“We had a play drawn up for Brady. It was originally supposed to be a layup, but JWP did a good job of stopping him at the block, which forced Brady to go to the mid-range. Once he got it, he put it up and sank it… nothing but net,” said Rutledge.

JWP’s offense had zero answers for Blooming Prairie’s stingy defense in the second half and scored just one field goal over the final nine minutes of the game.

Kittelson’s big night not only saw him hit the game-winner but also finish with a team-high 17 points.

The day prior, Blooming Prairie beat K-W 65-57 to avenge one of the team’s two losses on the season and secure the Awesome Blossoms a No. 1 seed in the Section 1A tournament.

Blooming Prairie led 31-30 at halftime and actually trailed by a small margin in the second half but pulled away in the end to win by eight.

Kittelson was the team’s top scorer once more with 19 points.

Up next for Blooming Prairie is a date with the winner of the play-in game between No. 16 LeRoy-Ostrander and No. 17 Bethlehem Academy; that outcome was not available at the time of press.

The Awesome Blossoms will kick off their section tournament at home on Thursday, Feb. 29 at 7 p.m.

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