MARSHALL - Fairmont's trademark defense and talent-laden 10-player rotation triggered an incredible second-half comeback during Saturday night's South Sub-Section basketball championship in Marshall.
The Cardinals erased a nine-point halftime deficit by limiting the Worthington Trojans to just 20 second-half points on 31 percent field-goal shooting to exit the R/A Facility on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus with a 64-57 victory.
Fairmont (23-5) advances to face North Sub-Section champion Redwood Valley (23-5) at 8 p.m. Thursday night back at the R/A Facility in Marshall for the Section 3AA championship. Redwood Valley reached the sectional finale via a 57-50 triumph over Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial.
AT THE RIM — Fairmont forward Josh Eversman (25) sprints past Worthington center Morgan Traylor (middle) for a layup during the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section basketball championship on Saturday night at the R/A Facility on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall. The Trojans’ Josh Vander Veer (21) looks on. Photo by Leanna Becker
Worthington, the 2012 sectional champion, ended its season with a 17-9 record.
"Our guys were great off the bench again tonight. They really kept us in the game during the first half," Cardinal mentor Jared Thompson said in reference to Josh Eversman, Justin Barnes, Luke Hested, Luke Becker and Nick Roggow - who combined for 18 of the team's 28 first-half points en route to 27 total points on the game.
Trailing 22-9 on the heels of the Trojans' 12-0 scoring surge midway through the opening half, the trio of Eversman, Barnes and Hested helped the Cardinals whittle their deficit to less than double figures by intermission.
Barnes delivered back-to-back baskets for four of his seven points on the night to help halt Worthington's offensive outbreak with 7 minutes remaining in the opening half.
Center Morgan Traylor, who produced game-leading totals of 28 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots, and teammate Marcus Potter, however, later combined to re-establish a 12-point lead at 31-19 with just 2:46 remaining before halftime.
Hested then snapped the nets on a 3-pointer from near the top of the key before the senior wing sank a pair of free throws to inch Fairmont within 33-26 with a minute to go.
Traylor, who connected on 9 of 12 field goals to fuel an 18-point first half, traded low-post leaners with Eversman during the next two sequences before Potter delivered some more last-second heroics. Potter, who sank the game-winning 3-pointer to beat the buzzer during the Trojans' sub-section semifinal victory over Martin County West on Thursday night, tossed in a backside putback basket to put Worthington ahead 37-28 at the break.
Thompson and his coaching staff delivered the perfect halftime speech as junior guard Mitch Pfingsten and the Cardinals stormed out of the lockerroom on an 11-2 run to knot the game at 39-all at the 14:33 mark.
"At halftime, we told them (the players) to do what they're supposed to do defensively each and every possession down the court," Thompson said. " ... All of our guys did a nice job on helping double-down and swarm on Traylor in the post.
"He (Traylor) may have scored 10 (points) during the second half, but he had to work a lot harder for them than in the first half."
While the Trojans went cold from the floor - 8-for-26 shooting - during the second half, Pfingsten warmed up the nets by draining 3 of 4 shots, including a pair of trifectas, to open the second half. Pfingsten, who finished with a team-best 21 points, swooshed a 3 from the left wing to produce the sub-section final's second tie at 39-all and first since 4-4 early on.
Traylor and teammate Jon Vorwald, however, revitalized the Trojans with back-to-back baskets to restore a four-point lead with 9 minutes remaining in regulation.
Bryce Holm drilled a left-wing 15-footer off Levi Becker's assist to trigger the Cardinals' pivotal 10-2 run that put the game out of reach at 55-49 with 4 minutes to go.
Pfingsten worked his magic off a shake-and-shimmer runner in traffic to tie the game at 47 before Jay Ruen nailed a clutch 3-pointer off a long offensive rebound. Holm then spotted Eversman in the low post for two of his 12 points before Traylor countered in the lane for the Trojans.
Eversman, who also garnered a team-best 11 rebounds, doled out his third assist to Holm for a jumper near the free throw line before Barnes tossed in a solo free throw.
Worthington made only 3 of 11 free throws during the second half, while Fairmont sank 5 of 7 down the stretch to keep the Cardinals in the driver's seat.
Eversman's putback basket at the 1:27 juncture, Pfingsten's traditional 3-point play at the 59-second mark and Pfingsten's one-and-one conversion 11 seconds later iced the comeback victory.
Ruen finished with seven points and six rebounds for the Cardinals, while Barnes delivered seven points off the bench.
Spencer Grafing 1-5 0-0 3, Jon Vorwald 3-14 1-2 8, Morgan Traylor 13-18 2-8 28, Will Dudley 2-3 1-4 5, Marcus Potter 4-11 3-3 11, Josh Vander Veen 0-3 0-0 0, Will Mulder 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 24-57 7-17 57.
Jay Ruen 3-9 0-0 7, Bryce Holm 2-3 0-0 4, Levi Becker 2-7 1-1 5, Ryan Noll 0-0 0-2 0, Mitch Pfingsten 8-13 3-4 21, Josh Eversman 5-10 2-3 12, Nick Roggow 0-0 0-0 0, Justin Barnes 3-4 1-2 7, Luke Becker 1-1 0-0 3, Luke Hested 1-1 2-2 5. Totals 25-48 9-14 64.
3-pointers: FHS 5-11 (Pfingsten 2-5, Luke Becker 1-1, Hested 1-1, Ruen 1-3, Eversman 0-1); Worthington 2-18 (Grafing 1-4, Vorwald 1-9, Vander Veen 0-3, Potter 0-1, Mulder 0-1). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: FHS 34 (Eversman 11); Worthington 22 (Traylor 13). Assists: FHS 9 (Eversman 3); Worthington 8 (Vorwald 3). Steals: Worthington 11 (Dudley and Potter 3 each); FHS 5. Blocks: Traylor 5.