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Heartbreaker for Litchfield, Minn., boys basketball: Runner-up for a second year

Litchfield High School guards Dylan Koll, left, and Jordan Redepenning wipe away tears during the awards ceremony following the Dragons’ 56-54 loss to Minnehaha Academy in the Class AA state championship basketball game on Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Tribune photo by Tom Larson)

What the Litchfield Dragons boys basketball team experienced Saturday afternoon could be described as déjà vu if it wasn’t so vivid, so real.

With their 56-54 loss to Minnehaha Academy at the Target Center, the Dragons have felt the sting of losing in the Class AA state championship game twice in the span of 364 days.

Both years, Litchfield entered the title game with 26 wins, a section championship and a 6-0 postseason record. And both years, after 36 tough minutes of basketball, the Dragons stood on the court, with second-place medals around their necks and tears in their eyes, and watched opponents collect a championship trophy.

Dragons head coach John Carlson watched as his team huddled up, players only, after the awards ceremony, and then he gathered them up again moments later to tell them how proud he was.

“You have to understand, their goal was to win this game,” Carlson said, “and they didn’t just set that goal today. That was set the first day of practice, so this is hard for them. And it should be hard for them, the amount of commitment they put into the game and the effort. It should be tough for them right now.”

The last time teams lost back-to-back state championship games was 1988 and 1989, when two teams, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in Class A and Robbinsdale Armstrong in Class AA, both lost consecutive title games.

Aside from winning back-to-back, none of the Dragons would have wanted it any differently.

“We started playing basketball together back in elementary school,” said senior guard Zach Whitchurch, whose last-second shot to tie the game narrowly missed its mark. “It’s a fun group of guys and we’ve played together our whole lives. This is a great place for it to end, in the state finals, two years in a row.”

The team’s seniors said they were disappointed in the results but not in the effort it took just to get, and win two games, in the state tournament.

“Going through this is better with this group of guys than anybody else,” said senior guard Dylan Koll. “It hurts, knowing we can’t play together again, but I’m glad it was us, a bunch of brothers, all together. It was a great season.”

As the team huddled on the Target Center court following the awards ceremonies, some still wiping tears into the game jerseys, the focus of their brief talk was about looking ahead, not back.

“We talked about being successful,” said senior center Riley Pater. “How it’s going to be down the road for us. Even though we weren’t successful tonight, we have lives ahead of us and we have to keep working hard.”

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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