There was no real strong opinion about the best Class A boys basketball team going into the state tournament this week at the Premier Center. There was little doubt by the end of it, though, as to who earned that distinction.
Tea Area was the sixth-seed in name only this weekend. Winning 11 of its last 12 games would be one way of measuring that. Another would be the Titans’ 72-65 win over top-seeded Madison in Saturday night’s championship game.
This was a night for Ethan Freidel, a 6-1 senior guard for Tea Area who warmed up right away and then kept it going, scoring 29 points to lead all scorers.
“Confidence was a huge thing,” Freidel said, referring to the teams’ improved play over the final month. “We knew we could do it. We knew we were one of the better teams in the state. We had the talent. And hard work came next.”
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Weathering a fierce Madison comeback in the fourth quarter was part of the night for the Titans (21-4), who led by as many as 20 points early in the second half. The Bulldogs made seven 3-pointers after intermission after making just one before that.
That’s probably where the hard work came in for the Titans. Hanging in there with half the arena going nuts at your expense is never going to be an easy task.
“We had some guts there to take some shots when they got the lead down to two,” Tea Area coach Chris Fechner said. “I credit the guys for that. It got us to where we were.”
The Titans (21-4) defeated No. 3 seed St. Thomas More in the quarterfinals and then topped Tri-Valley in the semifinals, setting up a shot at the Bulldogs, who had defeated Tea Area during the regular season and knocked off Dakota Valley and Sioux Falls Christian in the tournament.
The elder Freidel – his sophomore brother Noah added 16 points – wasn’t the only one hitting from the outside. The Titans made nine in all, with Ethan making six and Kade Stearns adding three more. Guard Justin Hohn-Mack added nine points, dependably hanging onto the basketball during a particularly stressful fourth quarter.
“Every time we tried to do something, they hit big shot after big shot,” Madison coach Michael Ricke said. “We didn’t hit many shots right away but once we started to get a run – that momentum is a big thing. We had it down to a one-possession game, we just didn’t quite get it done.”
The Titans demonstrated an appetite for the 3-pointer early on combining for five of them in the first half on the way to a 29-17 lead. The outside attack continued in the third quarter with Stearns hitting from the beyond the arc midway through the third quarter that put the Titans up 43-23.
The Bulldogs, going for football-basketball back-to-back state titles, closed the gap to 50-39 by the end of the third quarter, persistently gathering in offense rebounds and turning them into points. Then in the fourth quarter, they got even more serious. Jadon Janke led Madison with 20 points with Aaron Fiegen adding 12 and Jaxon Janke scoring 10.
“Crazily, we still had the lead,” Ethan Freidel said. “But we were playing a great team. Everybody wanted a show and Madison gave them that. Great teams play great games.”
With 2:33 to play, Marcus VandenBosch narrowed the margin to 58-56 and added a drive with 1:24 to play to get the margin back to two again, but Ethan Freidel answered with a drive and a free throw with 1:11 remaining to put the Titans up 63-58.
It wasn’t what you’d call an obvious separation point but it definitely came at the right time in this case.
“We were family, that was our big thing,” Freidel said. “We were family all year. We stayed together. We had one goal and we all worked hard. One through 15, everyone on this team had a role. By the end of the season, everyone bought in.”