ST. JAMES - Class AA, No. 8-ranked Fairmont earned a spot in Friday night's Section 3, South Sub-Section girls basketball championship game.
Point guard Sierra Schultz produced a game-high 16 points to complement six rebounds, four steals and a game-best five assists to steer the No. 1-seeded Cardinals to a 65-47 sub-section semifinal triumph over the No. 4-seeded Jackson County Central Huskies in St. James.
Fairmont (24-4) will square off against No. 2-seeded Martin County West (20-4) for the South Sub-Section crown at 7 p.m. Friday night in Windom.
PACKED ZONE — Fairmont’s Kayla Lardy (53) plays hands-up defense on Jackson County Central’s Sydney Eddy during Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinal action Tuesday night in St. James. Fairmont defenders Courtney Mosloski (45), Haley Harder (1) and Sierra Schultz (33), along with JCC’s Julia Schumann (back right) and Blaney Markman (10) look on. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The Mavericks reached the sub-section finale via a 59-44 victory over Windom Area.
The Huskies ended their season with a 9-17 record.
"Give Jackson County Central credit - they came to play tonight and kept the game close in the first half," said Fairmont mentor Don Waletich, whose team coasted to a 74-33 regular-season decision over the Huskies on Jan. 11. "But I was very pleased with how our girls responded midway through the first half and to open the second."
After trading the lead back-and-forth eight times during the initial stages, center Kayla Lardy hit a putback basket to knot the game at 13-all and trigger the Cardinals' pivotal 8-0 run.
"It was a gritty effort on our part," Fairmont assistant coach Sara Junkermeier said in reference to the red-and-white's 34-29 rebounding edge.
Emily Kim added to Fairmont's boardwork numbers by tracking down her own long-range miss to toss in a runner. Schultz then cleared the defensive glass and spotted Lardy in the low post to swing a 17-13 lead to the Cardinals and cause the Huskies to call timeout at the 6:20 juncture.
Schultz then garnered another defensive carom, drove coast-to-coast and tossed in a pull-up jumper from 4 feet.
Kaylee Burmeister, who cleared the 1,000-point career scoring mark in the second half, hit a solo free throw for JCC only to watch as Fairmont's Sierra Schrader delivered a clutch traditional 3-point play to widen the lead to 22-14.
Kristen Campe, whose basketball-hawking defense limited the high-scoring Burmeister to nine points, then worked the offensive boards for a putback basket to trigger the Cardinals' ensuing 8-2 surge to eventually build a 10-point lead by intermission.
Schultz sank a solo charity toss for Fairmont before JCC guard Rachel Johnson converted a one-and-one situation. Schultz then snapped the nets on a 3-pointer off a Schrader assist before Schultz traded roles in distributing a low-post entry pass to Alex Christianson for a leaner in the paint.
Christianson's free throws, followed by consecutive steals-turned-baskets by Campe and Schultz, extended the Cardinals' edge to 40-26 only 2 minutes into the second half.
Johnson drilled a 3-pointer out of JCC's timeout and point guard Julia Schumann later nailed another trey to whittle the Huskies' deficit to 42-34, but Fairmont would counter again.
Schultz tossed in a runner, Lardy drilled a left-wing 3-pointer and Courtney Mosloski tossed in two of her 12 points off a Campe assist to build a 15-point gap with 11 minutes to go.
Mosloski delivered a co-game-best five steals to complement her dozen points for the Cardinals, while Lardy generated 11 points, a game-best six blocked shots and five boards.
Christianson supplied a team-best eight rebounds to go with six points, Campe scored six to complement a co-game-high five steals, Schrader contributed five points and seven boards, Kim chipped in six points, while Larissa Becker added a late 3-pointer.
Schumann tallied 10 points and dished out three assists for JCC, while Burmeister doled out four assists and grabbed eight boards to go with her nine points.