MARSHALL - Fairmont forward Jay Ruen seemed to always be in the right place at the right time on the Southwest Minnesota State University hardwood court on Saturday night.
Ruen produced a double-double of 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to complement a game-best six steals, while Luke Becker also delivered 18 points, including a game-best four 3-pointers, to engineer the top-seeded Cardinals' 76-44 rout over No. 2-seeded St. James in the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game in Marshall.
Class AA No. 7-ranked Fairmont (23-4) earned a rematch for the Section 3 championship with defending champion and No. 6-ranked Redwood Valley (23-5) at 5 p.m. Thursday back at SMSU in Marshall.
THREEEE! — Fairmont guard Luke Becker launches a 3-pointer as St. James defender Ryan Menssen (13) watches during the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. Fairmont’s Taylor Beebe (left) and St. James’ Zach Brandts look on. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Redwood Valley converted Taquez Perkins' 23 points and Sam Pendleton's 22 into a 74-55 triumph over Tracy-Milroy-Balaton in Saturday night's North Sub-Section title game.
No. 9-ranked St. James ended its season with a 21-6 record.
"That was our best defensive performance of the entire season," said Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson, whose lineup matched last year's single-season school mark of 23 victories with the stunning 32-point decision over the Saints.
Fairmont defeated South Central Conference rival St. James 67-65 in overtime on Jan. 3 on the Saints' home court and 85-70 on Feb. 7 at Cardinal Gym, but the storyline changed drastically with just 5 minutes remaining in the opening half on Saturday night.
Zach Brandts and Jordan Sandmeyer combined to stake the Saints to an early 7-2 edge during the sub-section showdown before Ruen, Becker and Mitch Pfingsten narrowed the Cardinals' deficit.
"St. James got off to a quick start on us, but I thought the difference was Jay Ruen's intensity on both ends of the floor, especially during the first half," said Thompson. "His 15 points and work on the boards, along with Luke's 10 points before halftime, really settled us."
Thompson's postgame analysis proved as accurate as Ruen and Becker's combined 14-for-21 shooting performance from the field.
After trailing 18-14 on the heels of Brandts' spin move in the low post, Becker swooshed a trey from 25 feet before Ruen crashed the offensive glass to earn two free throws with 6:15 left in the opening segment.
John Olsen countered for St. James by banking home a 12-footer off the window to restore a one-point lead before Fairmont erupted for a 17-0 run that bridged intermission.
After Becker drained another 3-pointer to trigger the Cardinals' double-digit offensive avalanche, Pfingsten tossed in two of his game-high 21 points via a long-distance assist from Josh Eversman on a breakaway chance.
Eversman added a solo free throw before Becker floated home a baseline runner to cause St. James to call timeout at the 4:02 juncture trailing 27-20.
Ruen then delivered seven more unanswered points to close out the opening half, including a conversion of teammate Ben Abel's leaping baseline save and assist out of the timeout.
"The ball just seemed to come to me wherever I went on the court tonight. I can't explain it," said the hard-working Ruen. "Ben made a nice out-of-bounds save on that air ball, and I was in the right place at the right time and scored."
Ruen then pocketed the first of his six steals to open the second half and hit the lay-in to extend Fairmont's lead to 36-20. Sandmeyer then hit a 12-footer in the lane to finally end St. James' 7-minute drought.
The Cardinals then displayed their balanced attack as five different players - Becker, Pfingsten, Nick Roggow, Taylor Beebe and Abel - delivered baskets to widen the gap to 47-25 with 13 minutes remaining in the second half.
Pfingsten later made 8 of 9 free throws, including a pair of one-and-one conversions, while Becker snapped the nets on two more 3-pointers to create a 65-37 lead with 7 minutes to go.
Brandts scored 15 points to top St. James, Walker Froehling neared double-double territory with eight points and nine rebounds to go with three assists, while Sandmeyer chipped in seven points.