FAIRMONT - The Fairmont cagers gave Jared Thompson what every prep coach wants for one's birthday - a victory.
Mitch Pfingsten and Jay Ruen each converted clutch one-and-one situations with less than a minute remaining in regulation before Ryan Noll's press-breaking layup with 21 seconds left wrapped up the Cardinal mentor's present on Saturday night.
Pfingsten erupted for a game-high 26 points to complement four assists, while teammates Noll, Josh Eversman and Levi Becker also hit for double figures to help Fairmont fend off the Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial Knights, 74-66, in a nonconference clash in Fairmont.
STINGING?SWAT — Fairmont’s Mitch Pfingsten (3) rejects Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial forward Nick Thul’s shot during nonconference basketball action Saturday night at Cardinal Gym. Fairmont’s Jay Ruen (middle back), the Cardinals’ Bryce Holm (5) and the Knights’ Kyle Holbeck (far left) and Michael Coates watch the action. Photo by Leanna Becker
"We hit our free throws at the end of the game and that was key," said Thompson. "We made 10 of 15 at the line and that's good, but it seemed like they (the Knights) couldn't miss (free throws) tonight."
LCWM combined a stellar 20-for-22 free throw-shooting performance - 91 percent - with 8-for-22 shooting from 3-point range to keep within striking distance of Fairmont throughout the game.
After holding an 11-2 early lead during a first half that featured four lead changes and one tie at 25-all, the Cardinals found themselves trailing by the Knights' largest margin of the contest - two points - during the initial stages of the second half.
Sam Krahling and Bryson Yackel, who netted a team-leading 22 points, drilled back-to-back 3s out of the intermission to transform a 33-29 halftime deficit into a 35-33 edge.
Pfingsten & Co., however, made the Knights' lead short-lived by erupting for a 15-5 run to grab their second-largest margin of the second half at 48-40 at the 11-minute mark.
"Every time we went up by six or eight points, they answered with either a 3 or free throws to narrow the gap," said Thompson. "But we did a nice job of responding every time they got close and re-established a six- to eight-point lead again."
After Pfingsten delivered 11 points during Fairmont's 15-5 surge to build the 48-40 edge on the scoreboard, LCWM point guard Gabe Gimenez did what Thompson said - he connected for a 3 before teammate Michael Coates delivered four consecutive free throws to slice the visitors' deficit.
In fact, Coates generated more than half of his 16-point performance from the charity stripe, sinking a perfect 9 of 9 on the night.
The Cardinals, however, countered as Eversman garnered one of his game-high eight rebounds on the defensive end before converting a traditional 3-point play at the other end for three of his 11 points off the bench. Eversman's pivotal play doubled Fairmont's lead to 53-47 at the 8:44 juncture.
"I thought Josh did a nice job of rebounding and scoring inside for us tonight," said Thompson.
Levi Becker, who delivered 10 points, then buried a 3-pointer off Noll's skip pass to extend the Cardinals' lead to their largest of the second half - nine - at 56-47.
But the Knights refused to exit without one last comeback as Yackel and Coates later drilled 3-pointers at the 1:14 and 57-second junctures, respectively, to make it a one-possession game at 68-65.
Pfingsten converted a one-and-one situation three seconds later before Ruen did likewise at the 37-second mark to restore a seven-point margin.
Noll, who finished with 12 points, later glided home for a breakaway layup off a Pfingsten halfcourt pass against the Knights' full-court pressure to seal the victory.
Ruen contributed four points, six rebounds and four assists to the Cardinals' winning ways, while Gimenez collected nine points, six boards, three steals and three assists for LCWM.
Fairmont (4-1) plays host to Martin County West on Tuesday night, while Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (4-2) entertains Granada-Huntley-East Chain on Thursday night.
Kale Fritz scored 13 points to guide Fairmont to a 56-21 victory over Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial during B-squad action on Saturday night in Fairmont.
Cole Emler scored 10 points for the Cardinals, Ben Abel tallied eight points and five rebounds, while Parker Monsen netted eight points.
Fairmont defeated LCWM, 45-10, during C-squad action Saturday night in Fairmont.
No individual statistics were reported.