MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For 41 years, Melrose Area battled to get back to the state tournament. Once they did, they made the most of it.

The Dutchmen earned their first state appearance since 1974, then capped off a whirlwind postseason with a 63-51 victory over Caledonia in the Class 2A boys basketball state championship game Saturday at Target Center.

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To do so, Melrose Area (29-5) knocked off two sub-section top seeds and the state tournament’s No. 1 seed, St. Croix Lutheran, in the state semifinals.

“It’s magic,” junior forward Drake Meyer said. “We worked really hard, though, to get where we are right now. It’s been a dream to come here. We worked hard, and it paid off.”

Meyer scored 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Tyler Braegelmann added 15 points and eight rebounds, while Cesar Cervantes chipped in 10 points and seven assists.

The Dutchmen were a force in the 1970s, making five consecutive state trips, including two titles and two runner-up finishes. But more than 40 years passed since their last state appearance despite several near-misses.

Dutchmen coach Ryan Dusha said there was no indication that this team would end that streak, but its hard work and unselfish play paid off.

“This wasn’t something we needed to validate our program — it’s never been about wins and losses with us,” Dusha said. “It’s just about getting better every day. But it’s a journey, not a destination for us. Always has been, always will be. But this is a pretty dang cool destination.”

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Melrose Area grabbed an early 8-2 edge and led 31-24 at halftime. Caledonia (28-5) chipped away in a back-and-forth second half, twice cutting the lead to five.

But when the Dutchmen needed a shot, they made it happen. A late 10-3 run secured the win.

Colton Lampert, Justin Burg and Austin Bauer led Caledonia with nine points. Overall, the Warriors shot just 33.9 percent from the field.

“It’s just hard, you know you can shoot the ball better, and we just didn’t hit shots,” Caledonia coach Josh Diersen said. “That’s basketball. You don’t put the ball in the hole, your defense better be really locked in. And we got lost a couple times tonight.”

That allowed a Cinderella story to steal the show.

“We’ve always been the underdog,” Meyer said. “Once we knocked off St. Croix Lutheran … we knew we could keep with Caledonia.”

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