MARSHALL - The last time the Fairmont boys basketball team advanced to the state tournament, none of the current Cardinal players were even born.
The 2013-14 No. 7-ranked Cardinals did something that hadn't been done in 24 years - earn a berth to the state tournament with an 84-71 victory over No. 6-ranked Redwood Valley in the Section 3AA championship on Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
Fairmont (24-4) will await this weekend's seeding meeting to find out its opponent, the time - either 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. - and location - Target Center or Williams Arena - of its state quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
TO THE NEXT LEVEL — Fairmont forward Josh Eversman (25) uses his vertical leap to shoot a jumper over Redwood Valley’s Cade Johnson (24) during the Section 3AA basketball championship on Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. Fairmont’s Nick Roggow (41), along with Redwood Valley’s Sam Pendleton (far right), watch the action. Fairmont went on to defeat Redwood Valley, 84-71, to advance to next week’s Class AA state tournament. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Redwood Valley finished its season with a 23-6 record.
"We scored one more point and held them to 26 fewer points than we did three weeks ago," Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson said about Redwood Valley's 97-83 victory over Fairmont on Feb. 13.
Fairmont didn't start out the sectional final like a team that was going to set the nets on fire, making just 13 of 34 from the floor in the first half.
But in a game all about momentum, Fairmont carried it into halftime on the strength of Mitch Pfingsten's buzzer-beating shot and used it to fuel a 16-for-21 second-half shooting performance to cap the victory.
"I think we started out with some nerves in the game, that's part of why we were missing some shots, but we rebounded and played solid defense to keep us in the game," said Thompson.
Pfingsten, who gave Fairmont the two-point advantage going into halftime, scored a game-high 38 points to top the Cardinal offense.
With just under six minutes left in the first half, Fairmont held a 21-16 lead.
Senior Nick Roggow powered up a shot under the basket and converted the free throw for the tradition three-point play to take an 18-16 edge.
Josh Eversman, who netted a double-double performance of 18 points and 10 rebounds, swished a 3 from the wing to stake Fairmont to a 21-16 lead.
"We knew that we would have the advantage inside," Thompson said about Redwood Valley's lineup that lacks a player over 6 feet. "I think a month ago the team really bought into our defensive strategies and everything we were doing, and tonight we won this together."
Cade Johnson tried to get Redwood Valley within striking distance by drilling a 3 from the corner.
Roggow, who finished with 11 points to go along with five rebounds, drained a jumper to keep Fairmont on top.
After Johnson sank one of two free throws on Redwood Valley's next possession, Pfingsten responded with a runner in the lane.
Johnson then countered with another of his three first-half 3s to make it 25-23.
Johnson, who scored all of his 12 points in the first half, then swished both free throws to even the game at 25 with 3:40 left before half.
Fairmont senior Luke Becker, stepped up and drilled a 3 from the top of the key to retake the lead, but again Johnson answered on the other end with a 3 to keep the game even.
Redwood Valley junior Sam Pendleton then gave his team the lead, floating a shot up and in with 2:10 on the clock to go up 30-28.
On the next Fairmont possession, Eversman drove off the wing and laid it up and in to even the game again.
After stopping Redwood Valley on its next possession, Roggow pulled down one of his five rebounds and zipped a pass to Pfingsten, who was fouled.
The Fairmont guard converted his one-and-one situation to stake his Cardinals to a 32-30 lead with 45 seconds left before halftime.
Pendleton, who scored a team-leading 21 points, then sank a runner in the lane to even the game with five seconds left on the clock.
Pfingsten provided the momentum for Fairmont going into the locker room, driving the length of the floor and banking a shot off the backboard as the buzzer sounded to take the 34-32 lead.
"We attacked the lane tonight, and our defensive intensity, especially in the second half, allowed us to get the win," said Thompson.
Fairmont's offensive efficiency in the second half pinned Redwood Valley's collective backs to the walls and the No. 7-ranked Cardinals cruised to earn the state berth.
Jay Ruen contributed nine points, seven in the second half, to Fairmont's effort.
Becker finished with six points, while Pfingsten also grabbed five boards.
Thane Widmer scored 13 points for Redwood Valley, while Mitchell Fischer contributed 16 and Joe Smith netted five points.
R. Valley 32-39-71
REDWOOD VALLEY (71)
Perkins 2-4 0-1 4, Widmer 6-9 0-2 13, Pendleton 9-19 2-2 21, Smith 1-3 2-2 5, Fischer 6-7 2-2 16, Johnson 3-8 3-4 12, Hengel 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 27-51 9-13 71.
Pfingsten 13-23 9-9 38, Eversman 7-15 3-6 18, Ruen 4-6 0-0 9, Roggow 2-3 7-7 11, Becker 2-4 0-0 6, Beebe 1-1 0-0 2, Abel 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 29-50 19-22 84.
3-pointers: Redwood Valley 8-22 (Widmer 1-3, Pendleton 1-4, Smith 1-3, Fischer 2-3, Johnson 3-8, Hengel 0-1); Fairmont 7-16 (Pfingsten 3-7, Eversman 1-4, Ruen 1-3, Becker 2-2). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: Redwood Valley 20 (Pendleton 7); Fairmont 27 (Eversman 10, Pfingsten and Roggow 5 each).