WINDOM - "It was ugly, but we managed to find a way to win tonight," Fairmont head boys basketball coach Jared Thompson said with a sigh of relief on the heels of his Class AA, No. 7-ranked Cardinals' 61-57 comeback playoff victory over rival Blue Earth Area on Tuesday night in Windom. "Blue Earth (Area) played a phenomenal game, but our guys made the big plays when we needed them."
No. 1-seeded Fairmont (22-4) advances to face Class AA, No. 9-ranked and No. 2-seeded St. James (21-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall for the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship.
St. James eliminated No. 3-seeded Jackson County Central (17-10) via a 76-57 semifinal decision.
TIGHT DEFENSE — Fairmont’s Jay Ruen challenges Blue Earth Area forward Kellen Jacobs’ jumpshot during Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinal basketball action Tuesday night in Windom. Fairmont’s Josh Eversman (25) and Blue Earth Area’s Luke Monson battle for rebounding position, while the Cardinals’ Taylor Beebe (21) and the Bucs’ Brandon Olson (20) look on. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
No. 5-seeded Blue Earth Area ended its season with an 11-15 record.
"Reaching the 2,000-point career scoring mark feels good, but winning tonight's game is an even better feeling," said Fairmont's all-time scoring leader Mitch Pfingsten, who also possibly sustained a broken nose during a hardwood floor-burning loose-ball scramble during the final minute of regulation. "Somehow, we fought back and did all the little things a team needs to do to win."
Trailing 57-56 on the heels of Buc forward Bailey Olson's steal and ensuing end-to-end drive, Pfingsten - who scored a game-high 25 points - delivered two of those "little things" to help the Cardinal regain the lead for good with a minute and a half remaining in the playoff clash.
Pfingsten managed to pocket one of his game-high six steals before later finding teammate Jay Ruen in the left corner for the pivotal go-ahead 3-pointer at the 1:10 mark.
Blue Earth Area mentor Seth Anderson called timeout with 59.1 seconds remaining, but the Bucs could not get their low-post shot to fall, and were forced to foul Pfingsten.
Pfingsten hit the front end of the one-and-one situation for a 60-57 lead with 22 seconds to go, but the Bucs' garnered the missed second toss and called timeout at the 17-second juncture.
With 6-foot-4 Josh Eversman pogo-stick jumping in front of the BEA passer along the sideline, the inbound throw-in sailed into no man's land where Pfingsten got his hands on it and was fouled again. Pfingsten made the first of two free throws before Eversman blocked the Bucs' late 3-point shot to seal the Cardinals' cardiac comeback.
"Josh's energy coming off the bench after sitting with his fourth foul for a while really turned things around for us down the stretch in the second half," said Thompson.
Trailing 55-50 after Buc forward Quinn Huisman hit a baseline jumper off of one of Conor Barnett's game-high six assists, Eversman reeled off six consecutive points to swing a one-point lead to the Cardinals - their first since 14-13.
Eversman, who finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds, hit a putback basket before tossing in a runner in traffic and converting both ends of a one-and-one for a 56-55 lead with 2:48 left in the game.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, senior center Luke Monson's impressive double-double performance of 24 points and a game-best 12 rebounds, along with teammate Derek Johnson's five 3-pointers, were not enough to fend off the Cardinals' late charge.
Monson scorched the Windom nets on 7-for-9 field-goal shooting to pace his 18-point first-half performance that engineered BEA's 32-25 lead by intermission.
The Bucs later built their largest leads of the game - nine points - when Johnson nailed 3-pointers at 37-28 and 40-31 during the second half's early stages.
Monson's low-post leaner off the glass via Kellen Jacobs' perfectly-lobbed entry pass also staked BEA to a 50-41 margin with 7:25 left in the game.
Johnson finished with 15 points for the Bucs, Bailey Olson netted nine points and seven boards, while Huisman chipped in six points.
Ruen neared double-double territory for the Cardinals by scoring eight points to complement grabbing nine rebounds.