FAIRMONT - Fairmont boys basketball mentor Jared Thompson appreciated the value of his talent-laden bench during Saturday night's playoff opener at Cardinal Gym.
Thompson's skilled reserves generated 38 points to complement starting sharpshooter Mitch Pfingsten's game-high 31 points, eight boards and five assists to help the Class 2A, No. 4-ranked and top-seeded Cardinals outlast the upset- minded and No. 8-seeded St. James Saints, 89-71, in a sub-section quarterfinal shootout in Fairmont.
Fairmont (21-5) advances to face No. 4-seeded Jackson County Central (16-9) at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinals in Windom.
BASELINE GLANCE — Fairmont guard Luke Becker (right) looks to drive around St. James defender Devon Schmitz along the baseline during Section 3AA, South Sub-Section quarterfinal basketball action on Saturday night at Cardinal Gym in Fairmont. Cardinal teammates, from left, Zach Brown, Tadd Abel and Ben Abel watch the action from the sideline. Photo by Leanna Becker
The Huskies reached the next round via a 70-56 opening-round triumph over No. 5-seeded Luverne.
St. James ended its season with a 3-22 record.
"Our players had to use a lot of energy during our last two regular-season games earlier this week," Thompson said in reference to the Cardinals' 83-72 loss to then No. 5-ranked Maple River on Monday and a 71-68 overtime defeat at the hands of current No. 5-ranked St. Peter on Thursday. "Our minds and hearts were in the right spots on the court tonight, but our legs were not there - at least to begin with.
"I thought Josh Eversman, Nick Roggow and Luke Becker really did a great job off of the bench for us tonight."
Fairmont's reserves proved even more valuable when Thompson lost Jay Ruen for the entire game when the starting junior forward crashed into the bleachers after chasing down a long carom at the 15:15 juncture of the opening half.
"I heard Jay had to have six stitches to his lip, but luckily he did not get a concussion out of his hustle play," Thompson said.
With Ruen out and the Cardinals trailing 5-0 after their initial nine possessions produced five of their 10 total turnovers on the game, in addition to an 0-for-4 shooting effort, Roggow and Eversman triggered the home team's ensuing 11-3 surge.
Roggow, who delivered eight points on perfect shooting - 2 of 2 from the field and 4-for-4 at the line, nailed a left-corner jumper for Fairmont's first points at the 14:05 mark.
Roggow later sank two free throws before the Saints' Walker Froehling delivered a traditional 3-point play.
Pfingsten, however, offset Froehling's play by drilling a trifecta off an Eversman assist before reserve forward Justin Barnes hit an 8-footer in the lane to swing a 9-8 lead to the Cardinals at the 11:53 mark.
Eversman, who delivered 16 points and seven boards, then spotted Roggow for another corner jumper to force St. James to call timeout at the 11:28 juncture.
Pfingsten and Eversman later helped extend Fairmont's lead to double figures with 2 minutes remaining in the first half before Zach Brandts and Sam Carlson combined to shoot St. James within six - 38-32 - with 45 seconds to go.
Carlson delivered a perfect pass to Brandts on a backdoor cut for two of his team-high 28 points before Brandts returned the favor by spotting Carlson for a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Pfingsten, however, had the final word of the first half by converting a traditional 3-point play at the 40-second mark to fuel the home team's 41-32 lead at intermission.
Ryan Menssen's traditional 3-point play, followed by teammate Joe Nelson's cutter in traffic, later inched the Saints within 48-47 with 12:30 remaining in the second half.
Pfingsten, Roggow, starting forward Bryce Holm and reserve guard Luke Becker, however, combined for a pivotal 9-2 run to keep the Saints at bay for the remainder of the game.
Pfingsten hit a gliding drive, Roggow sank two free throws, Holm converted from inside the paint, Luke Becker drained the second of his perfect 3-for-3 night from 3-point range and Pfingsten tossed in another runner for a 59-49 lead at the 9:25 mark.
Eversman and Pfingsten later combined to convert three one-and-one situations during the final 2 minutes of regulation to seal the Cardinals' 18-point playoff victory.
Luke Becker finished with nine points, Holm tallied eight points, while Ryan Noll contributed seven points, seven rebounds and four assists to Fairmont's winning performance.
Carlson produced 14 points behind 6-for-9 field-goal shooting to complement five rebounds and four assists for St. James.
Froehling netted a double-double effort of 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to go with four assists, while Menssen chipped in 12 points for the Saints.