MINNEAPOLIS - Win and advance.
The No. 3-seeded Fairmont Cardinals proved that beating a team three times can be done, outlasting the St. Peter Saints 58-54 during Class AA state quarterfinal action on Wednesday night at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Fairmont (25-4) advances to face No. 2-seeded Esko in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
PERFECT FORM — Fairmont guard Mitch Pfingsten (3) elevates to fire a jump shot over St. Peter’s Noah Hildebrandt (20) and Kolin Bartlett (50) during Class AA state quarterfinal basketball action Wednesday night at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. Fairmont’s Josh Eversman (right) and St. Peter’s Tom Steidler battle for rebounding position. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
St. Peter finished its season with a 14-15 overall record.
The Eskimos (27-3) advanced with a 57-54 overtime victory over East Grand Forks in quarterfinal action.
"It was exciting to play at the state tournament and in this gym. But once the game got going, it was just playing basketball," said Fairmont senior forward Jay Ruen.
Ruen, who scored a co-team-leading 17 points and grabbed six rebounds, helped the Cardinals fend off the Saints in the final minutes of regulation.
In a game that featured 17 lead changes, Ruen sank three of four free throws during the final minute to hold onto the victory.
"We just knew coming in that they were going to guard Mitch (Pfingsten) really well, and that meant that the rest of us would get looks," said Ruen. "So I just tried to make them when I got the chance."
After a 34-34 tie at halftime, the Saints were able to jump out to a quick two-point lead thanks to a Brendan Reese layup.
Fairmont senior forward Josh Eversman then converted one-of-two free throws to cut the lead to one before senior guard Luke Becker sank the first of his two 3-pointers for a 38-36 lead.
Saints' senior guard Cody Erickson then responded with a 3 from the wing before Ruen had a 3-point answer only 14 seconds later.
Ruen then sank a shot along the baseline to extend the lead to 43-39 with 12:50 left in the game.
The Cardinals kept their offensive roll going, with Pfingsten slicing through the lane and floating a runner through the cylinder for two of his co-team-leading 17 points and a 45-39 lead.
"Give the Saints credit for the way they battled tonight," said Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson. "We really had control of the game early in the second half, and they were able to take the momentum back. And we were able to come up with an answer."
The Saints then caught fire, led by senior forward Tom Steidler and his game-high 19 points.
Nick Rosburg then scored two of his six points to halt the Fairmont scoring at 45-41.
Steidler then created a Saints' flurry by catching an outlet pass off a Kolin Bartlett rebound and slamming it down to make it a two-point game with just under 10 minutes remaining.
On the ensuing Cardinal possession, Steidler snared an errant pass, drove the length of the floor and completed a traditional 3-point play after getting fouled on the layup to swing a 46-45 lead to the Saints.
Becker, who scored five points in the game, swished his second basket of the night to make it 47-46 for the Cardinals.
Becker then picked the pocket of the Saints' Reese, quickly zipping a pass ahead to Pfingsten for the layup to go ahead 49-46 with 8:22 on the clock.
Rosburg had an answer again for the Cardinals, catching one of Bartlett's game-high five assists on a high-low pass for the easy two.
"I think, I can't be sure, but I think other teams might get nervous in close games when it's down to the final minutes," said Thompson. "But our guys, especially the last couple weeks, don't seem to lose a step, and they play well."
Senior center Nick Roggow, who scored seven points, swished a jumper from the baseline to put the Cardinals up 51-48 with just over six minutes left.
Eversman, who finished with eight points, slashed through the lane and caught a pass from Pfingsten for the layup to go ahead by five, before Bartlett tallied two of his nine points with a basket to make it 53-50.
Both teams traded possessions, struggling to score, but Eversman drew a foul on Bartlett under the basket and sank one of his two free throws to make it 54-50 with 3:05 left.
Steidler kept the Saints in the game, sinking a shot from the wing with 2:37 remaining in the match-up.
With the Saints unable to convert on three straight possessions, Roggow was able to extend Fairmont's lead to 55-52 with 47 seconds left by swishing a charity toss.
Steidler made one of two free throws in the final 20 seconds to cut the lead to 55-53, but Ruen swished three of four at the line in the final moments to clinch the victory.
Despite Fairmont making just 22 of 53 field goals for 41 percent, its defense forced the Saints into 17 turnovers to make it difficult for St. Peter to gain any momentum.
"I thought that our defense has been good all season. But the last three defensive possessions tonight, we knew that they (Saints) needed a 3. They knew they needed a 3, and we were able to stop them," said Thompson. "Those were our best defensive series of the season."
Bartlett finished with near double-double numbers for the Saints, pulling down 12 boards to go along with his nine points, while Steidler grabbed five rebounds and pocketed four steals.
St. Peter 34-20-54
ST. PETER (54)
Erickson 2-5 0-0 5, Reese 2-3 2-4 6, Steidler 6-11 6-7 19, Lusty 4-5 0-0 9, Bartlett 3-9 3-6 9, Hildebrandt 0-1 0-0 0, Rosburg 3-5 0-0 6. Totals: 20-39 11-17 54.
Pfingsten 7-12 2-2 17, Becker 2-5 0-0 5, Eversman 3-10 2-4 8, Ruen 5-14 5-6 17, Roggow 3-7 1-2 7, Peterson 0-2 0-0 0, Abel 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 22-53 10-14 58.
3-pointers: St. Peter 3-9 (Erickson 1-2, Steidler 1-5, Lusty 1-1, Barlett 0-1); Fairmont 4-14 (Pfingsten 1-2, Becker 1-4, Eversman 0-2, Ruen 2-6). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: St. Peter 28 (Bartlett 12); Fairmont 27 (Eversman and Ruen 6 each). Assists: St. Peter 11 (Bartlett 5); Fairmont 10 (Ruen 4). Steals: St. Peter 6 (Steidler 4); Fairmont 10 (Eversman 4).