FAIRMONT - Fairmont matched Class 2A, No. 9-ranked St. James in nearly every first-half category except free throws during Friday night's clash of South Central Conference and Section 3AA basketball titans at Cardinal Gym.
Zach Brandts swooshed two of the Saints' five charity tosses - to zero by the Cardinals - with no time remaining in the opening 18 minutes to stake the visitors to a 43-36 halftime lead.
Fairmont, however, produced a 2-to-1 rebounding edge, in addition to scorching the nets on 17 of 29 field goals - 59 percent - and 11 of 13 free throws during the second half, to engineer an 85-70 comeback victory over St. James.
VIEW NEAR?THE RIM — Fairmont’s Josh Eversman (top right) challenges a shot by St. James’ Zach Brandts near the rim during South Central Conference action Friday night in Fairmont. The Cardinals’ Taylor Beebe (21) and Luke Peterson (15), along with the Saints’ Ryan Menssen, trail the action. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"We wanted to force a torrid pace during the first half, so we went to our bench a little earlier to keep our guys fresh," said Cardinal head coach Jared Thompson, whose lineup improved to 19-3 overall and closed out the SCC schedule with an 8-2 record. "By using eight players to their six, we were hoping to wear St. James down so they couldn't maintain such a high scoring pace.
"I think the strategy worked as they seemed to run out of gas during the latter stages of the second half."
Trailing by as many as 10 during the initial minutes of the second half, Fairmont slowly whittled St. James' margin on the strength of Jay Ruen's hustling brand of floor-burning defense to help trigger a comeback.
After Ryan Menssen drilled the fourth of his game-high five 3-pointers to stake the Saints to a 48-38 edge, Ruen pocketed a backcourt steal and hit the ensuing layup to gradually shift the momentum to the Cardinals.
Ruen, who produced solid all-around numbers of 12 points, eight boards and four assists, then drove the lane for a runner before teammate Luke Becker duplicated Ruen's dribble-drive through traffic to slice Fairmont's gap to four.
Despite Walker Froehling's traditional 3-point play that later extended St. James' advantage to 53-48, Fairmont point guard Mitch Pfingsten started to look to score more after distributing five of his six assists during the opening half.
Pfingsten, who finished with 24 points, nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner off a Josh Eversman assist to offset Brandts' steal-turned-layup at the other end.
St. James mentor Steve Walker called timeout on the heels of Pfingsten's 3 with 11:07 remaining in regulation and the Saints trailing 57-55.
Froehling, who shared game-high scoring accolades with Pfingsten by netting 24 points, countered out of the break with two free throws to knot the game at 57.
Unfortunately for the Saints, Eversman followed by snapping the nets on a trifecta off a Ruen assist before Ruen hit a running glider down the lane to stake the Cardinals to a five-point lead.
Brandts, who finished with 21 points, six assists and eight boards, connected on 3 of 4 free throws before Froehling drained another 3-pointer to swing a 63-62 lead back to St. James with 8 minutes remaining in regulation.
Taylor Beebe buried a 3-pointer, however, to shift the momentum back to Fairmont before Pfingsten erupted for a dozen points down the stretch.
Pfingsten nailed a 15-footer and a curling drive through traffic before Brandts' putback basket and Menssen's final 3 pared St. James' deficit to 69-68 with 4:26 to go.
Thompson called timeout at that juncture and the Cardinals closed out the game with a 16-2 scoring surge, including 9 of 10 from the free throw line.
Eversman produced a double-double of 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the Cardinals, while Becker connected on four treys to pace a 16-point performance.
Menssen scored 17 points for the Saints.
Fairmont (19-3, 8-2 SCC) plays host to Class 3A, No. 5-ranked Marshall on Tuesday night, while St. James (16-5, 5-4) plays host to St. Peter next Friday night.
Tyler Tennyson generated 14 points and distributed six assists to help guide Fairmont to a 57-44 victory over St. James during B-squad action Friday night in Fairmont.
Jack Waletich and Walker Tordsen each scored 11 points for the Cardinals, while teammate Noah Quiring chipped in eight points and six rebounds.
St. James downed Fairmont, 41-34, during C-squad action Friday night in Fairmont.
Sam Schwieger delivered 12 points to pace the Cardinals, Tyler Johnson netted seven points, while Christian Engeman pocketed four steals.
Blue Earth Area 55, St. Peter 50 - Luke Monson scored a game-high 18 points to push the Bucs by the Saints 55-50 during South Central Conference action on Friday in St. Peter.
Derek Johnson chipped in 15 points and pocketed four steals for BEA, while Bailey Olson neared double-double territory with nine points and nine rebounds.
The Bucs made 16 of 45 shots from the floor, including 3 of 15 from behind the 3-point line.
Blue Earth Area did pour in 20 of its 27 free throws to hold off the Saints.
Nick Rosburg topped the Saints with 15 points, while Tom Steidler and Kolin Bartlett each contributed 11 points.
St. Peter made 18 of 32 shots from inside the arc, while swishing 3 of 14 from behind the bonus line. The Saints also made 5 of 7 free throws.
Blue Earth Area (8-11, 4-5 SCC) travels to Medford on Monday night for a 7:30 p.m. nonconference game.
St. Peter (7-11, 2-5) plays host to Sibley East in a 7:30 p.m. nonconference game tonight.
Granada-Huntley-East Chain 69, Southwest Star Concept 41 - The Mustangs held the Wildcats to just 18 points in the first half to coast to a 69-41 nonconference victory on Friday night at East Chain School.
Ryan Shumski and Trent Stensland each neared double-double territory to top the Mustangs' balanced offensive efforts.
Shumski netted 19 points and seven rebounds, while Stensland finished with 17 points and eight boards to go with four steals.
Logan Pytleski contributed 12 points, while Josh Johanson recorded 11 points in GHEC's victory.
The Mustangs swished 22 of 42 shots from 2-point range, made 5 of 12 from behind the 3-point line and sank 10 of 26 at the free throw line.
Brandon Thurk and Zach Schumacher each tallied 11 points, while Trey Cranston scored nine to pace the Wildcats.
The Wildcats made 15 of 30 from the floor, including 1 for 26 from behind the 3-point line.
Southwest Star Concept also swished 18 of 22 from the charity stripe in the game.
Granada-Huntley-East Chain (7-10, 5-5 Valley) awaits its opponent for the Valley Conference Showcase that tips off on Monday night.
Southwest Star Concept (9-8) travels to Edgerton on Monday night for a Red Rock Conference game at 7:30 p.m.