No. 7 Cardinals end Bucs’ year

WINDOM – “It was ugly, but we managed to find a way to win tonight,” Fairmont head boys basketball coach Jared Thompson said with a sigh of relief on the heels of his Class AA, No. 7-ranked Cardinals’ 61-57 comeback playoff victory over rival Blue Earth Area on Tuesday night in Windom. “Blue Earth (Area) played a phenomenal game, but our guys made the big plays when we needed them.”

No. 1-seeded Fairmont (22-4) advances to face Class AA, No. 9-ranked and No. 2-seeded St. James (21-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall for the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship.

St. James eliminated No. 3-seeded Jackson County Central (17-10) via a 76-57 semifinal decision.

No. 5-seeded Blue Earth Area ended its season with an 11-15 record.

“Reaching the 2,000-point career scoring mark feels good, but winning tonight’s game is an even better feeling,” said Fairmont’s all-time scoring leader Mitch Pfingsten, who also possibly sustained a broken nose during a hardwood floor-burning loose-ball scramble during the final minute of regulation. “Somehow, we fought back and did all the little things a team needs to do to win.”

Trailing 57-56 on the heels of Buc forward Bailey Olson’s steal and ensuing end-to-end drive, Pfingsten – who scored a game-high 25 points – delivered two of those “little things” to help the Cardinal regain the lead for good with a minute and a half remaining in the playoff clash.

Pfingsten managed to pocket one of his game-high six steals before later finding teammate Jay Ruen in the left corner for the pivotal go-ahead 3-pointer at the 1:10 mark.

Blue Earth Area mentor Seth Anderson called timeout with 59.1 seconds remaining, but the Bucs could not get their low-post shot to fall, and were forced to foul Pfingsten.

Pfingsten hit the front end of the one-and-one situation for a 60-57 lead with 22 seconds to go, but the Bucs’ garnered the missed second toss and called timeout at the 17-second juncture.

With 6-foot-4 Josh Eversman pogo-stick jumping in front of the BEA passer along the sideline, the inbound throw-in sailed into no man’s land where Pfingsten got his hands on it and was fouled again. Pfingsten made the first of two free throws before Eversman blocked the Bucs’ late 3-point shot to seal the Cardinals’ cardiac comeback.

“Josh’s energy coming off the bench after sitting with his fourth foul for a while really turned things around for us down the stretch in the second half,” said Thompson.

Trailing 55-50 after Buc forward Quinn Huisman hit a baseline jumper off of one of Conor Barnett’s game-high six assists, Eversman reeled off six consecutive points to swing a one-point lead to the Cardinals – their first since 14-13.

Eversman, who finished with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds, hit a putback basket before tossing in a runner in traffic and converting both ends of a one-and-one for a 56-55 lead with 2:48 left in the game.

Unfortunately for the Bucs, senior center Luke Monson’s impressive double-double performance of 24 points and a game-best 12 rebounds, along with teammate Derek Johnson’s five 3-pointers, were not enough to fend off the Cardinals’ late charge.

Monson scorched the Windom nets on 7-for-9 field-goal shooting to pace his 18-point first-half performance that engineered BEA’s 32-25 lead by intermission.

The Bucs later built their largest leads of the game – nine points – when Johnson nailed 3-pointers at 37-28 and 40-31 during the second half’s early stages.

Monson’s low-post leaner off the glass via Kellen Jacobs’ perfectly-lobbed entry pass also staked BEA to a 50-41 margin with 7:25 left in the game.

Johnson finished with 15 points for the Bucs, Bailey Olson netted nine points and seven boards, while Huisman chipped in six points.

Ruen neared double-double territory for the Cardinals by scoring eight points to complement grabbing nine rebounds.