MARSHALL - Redwood Valley reserve guard Nicole Bunting scored only five points during Thursday's Section 3AA basketball championship, but it was her timing - not the amount - that proved pivotal.
Bunting drilled a right-corner 3-pointer with one minute left in regulation to widen Redwood Valley's lead to 46-42 before converting a critical one-and-one situation 30 seconds later to pace the North Sub-Section champion's 49-42 victory over South Sub-Section champion Fairmont at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
"He (second-year head coach Trevor Wittwer) always says in practice to 'let it fly' and that's what I did. I was open and had to take it (3-pointer)," said Bunting, a 5-foot-6 sophomore. "We practice free throws every day, so I had confidence that I could make those at the end of the game."
SANDWICHED — Fairmont’s Kayla Lardy leaps between Redwood Valley’s Victoria Quast (right) and Kayla Huhnerkoch to dish a pass to teammate Alex Christianson (35) during Thursday’s Section 3AA finale in Marshall. Fairmont’s Courtney Mosloski (45) and Redwood Valley’s Kayla Pohlen (32) look on. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Redwood Valley (19-9) advances to the Class AA state tournament for the fifth time in school history, and first since 1979. The Cardinals await the results of this weekend's seeding meeting for a tipoff time and opponent in Wednesday's state quarterfinals at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
Undefeated South Central Conference champion Fairmont, which established the program's single-season victory mark, ended its season with a 25-5 record. The Cardinals reached the sectional final for the first time since losing a two-point decision to Minnesota Valley Lutheran in 2008.
Ironically, Fairmont defeated Redwood Valley, 50-38, on Jan. 7 in Fairmont, but the Southwest Conference lineup avenged the regular-season loss.
Senior center Kayla Lardy converted a key one-and-one situation to recapture a one-point lead for Fairmont with 56 seconds remaining in a first half that featured five lead changes and five ties.
After shooting a mere 32 percent from the field in the initial 18 minutes, Wittwer told his hoopsters during intermission to pick up the tempo during the second segment.
"Fairmont was able to really slow the pace in the first half, and we were settling for shots from the perimeter instead of driving to the basket," said Wittwer. "We came out more aggressive to open the second half, attacked the basket and hit some shots right away. That, in turn, gave us the confidence we needed to hold on for the win."
Junior forward Lauren Hanson, who netted only a solo free throw in the opening 18 minutes, converted junior forward Makenzie Mace's assist into a 15-foot baseline jumper to trigger Redwood Valley's 11-2 surge. In fact, Wittwer's Cardinals connected on 11 of 20 second-half field goals for an improved 55 percent clip.
Mace tossed in an 8-footer in the paint before Fairmont sophomore power forward Courtney Mosloski tossed in two of her game-best 17 points via an offensive putback basket.
Redwood Valley point guard Kayla Pohlen, who tallied 10 points and doled out three assists, tossed in her second 3-pointer of the game before Hanson hit a baseline leaner to cause Fairmont mentor Don Waletich to call timeout, trailing 27-21 at the 13:35 juncture.
Mace, who netted nine points to complement seven rebounds and three assists, then hit a runner in traffic off a pinpoint pass from Victoria Quast for Redwood Valley's largest lead of the sectional finale at 29-21.
Mosloski, however, worked the high-low post game with Alex Christianson for a lay-in from the low blocks to trigger Fairmont's countering 8-2 run.
Sierra Schrader delivered a traditional 3-point play off a Christianson assist, Lardy hit a solo free throw and Emily Kim pocketed a backcourt steal and hit the ensuing layup to whittle Fairmont's deficit to 31-29 with 9:39 remaining in regulation.
Trailing 39-35 on the heels of Tara Sandgren's right-wing jumper, Lardy sank two free throws before Mosloski made a steal, drove coast-to-coast and banked home a leaner to knot the score for the sixth and next-to-last time at 39-all with 3 minutes to go.
Sandgren tossed in a pair of charity tosses to put Redwood Valley ahead again before Sierra Schultz's perfect lob to Christianson for a low-post basket knotted the game at 41-all.
Unfortunately for Fairmont, Schultz's front end of a one-and-one situation would be its only point of the final 2:18 of regulation.
Mace hit a baseline jumper off a Pohlen assist before Bunting drilled the clutch 3-pointer and later, two free throws.
Lardy finished with nine points, along with game-bests of five assists and five blocked shots, for Fairmont, while Schultz garnered a game-high eight rebounds to go with three steals.
Alison Curry delivered seven points and six rebounds off the bench for Redwood Valley.