MARSHALL - The same game, the same teams and the same location.
Third-year Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson and his No. 1-seeded Cardinals, however, will look to change tonight's 8 p.m. Section 3AA, South Sub-Section boys basketball championship game's final outcome from last season.
Long-time Worthington mentor Ron Vorwald and his Trojans posted a 72-51 triumph over Thompson and the Cardinals exactly one day shy of a year ago, but a couple of key starters will be absent when the two titans clash for a second consecutive campaign at the R/A Facility on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall.
LINED UP — Fairmont guard Mitch Pfingsten (second from left) triggers a fastbreak as Cardinal teammates Levi Becker (33), Josh Eversman (second from right) and Justin Barnes (far right) prepare to sprint up the court during Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinal basketball action Thursday night in Windom. Jackson County Central’s Jon Harmening (middle) looks on. Fairmont will face Worthington at 8 p.m. tonight for the South Sub-Section crown at Southwest Minnesota State University’s basketball court in Marshall. Photo by Leanna Becker
Mitch Weg, the Trojans' 6-foot-8 center who erupted for game-highs of 36 points and 13 rebounds, will likely be present at tonight's rematch, but only as a spectator and a member of the SMSU Mustang men's basketball team.
Lucas Henning, who netted 17 points during Worthington's sub-section win, along with Fairmont shot-blocking center Kevin Hanson and high-scoring forward Michael Forster, also were lost to graduation, but six skilled starters will return for a repeat showdown.
"Both programs have key personnel back from last year's sub-section championship, and we (coaching staff) are hoping that our experience pays off (tonight)," Thompson said in reference to his starting backcourt tandem of leading scorer Mitch Pfingsten and Ryan Noll, along with starting post player Levi Becker. "Worthington's a formidable opponent again, but maybe our focus can just be on them this time.
"After playing at the Target Center earlier this season, I think our guys have a better feel for a bigger court like the one that we'll be playing on at Southwest for the second year in a row."
Ironically, both the third-seeded Trojans (17-8) and top-seeded Cardinals (22-5) rallied from second-half deficits during their respective sub-section semifinal clashes on Thursday night in Windom.
Worthington converted junior guard Marcus Potter's buzzer-beating 3-pointer into a 62-59 upset over No. 2-seeded Martin County West, while Fairmont utilized its accuracy from behind the 3-point arc to eclipse No. 4-seeded Jackson County Central, 65-56.
"We'd really like to pick up where we left off during the last seven to eight minutes of (Thursday night's) game," Thompson said. "Obviously, we know that we're going to have to slow down (6-6 senior center Morgan) Traylor in the middle and get out on their shooters along the perimeter since they (the Trojans) have a lot of weapons behind the arc."
Despite Worthington's slight height advantage, the Trojans and Cardinals each demonstrated uncanny balanced scoring attacks in earning a spot in the South Sub-Section finale for a second consecutive season.
Traylor pulled down 10 rebounds to complement his team-leading 17-point performance against MCW, while Potter and senior sixth man Josh Vander Veen each delivered 10 points. Starting senior forward Jon Vorwald supplied nine points to the sub-section semifinal victory, while starting junior forward Spencer Grafing and starting junior guard Will Dudley chipped in eight points each.
Fairmont proved nearly a mirror image of Worthington as Pfingsten still managed to generate a team-leading 15 points despite facing JCC's box-and-one defensive scheme, while starting junior forward Jay Ruen, Levi Becker and junior sixth man Josh Eversman contributed 11 points each to the comeback victory.
Noll and junior reserve Luke Becker each chipped in six points, while starting senior forward Bryce Holm delivered solid defense to the Cardinals' winning ways.
So, what will be a key to tonight's sub-section championship game?
"We've hung our hats on our defense this season, and we'll need another top defensive performance (tonight)," said Thompson.
The South Sub-Section champion will advance to face the North Sub-Section winner - either Redwood Valley (22-5) or Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (16-12) - at 8 p.m. Thursday night for the Section 3AA crown back at SMSU in Marshall.
Redwood Valley and Lake Crystal-Wellcome tip off their sub-section finale at 6 p.m. tonight at SMSU in Marshall.
Redwood Valley downed BOLD, 63-46, in sub-section semifinal action, while LCWM eliminated Montevideo, 66-60.