WINDOM - Jackson County Central's box-and-one defensive strategy altered Fairmont's rhythm on offense on Thursday, but the Class 2A, No. 4-ranked Cardinals utilized balanced scoring to survive and advance during playoff basketball action in Windom.
Leading scorer Mitch Pfingsten delivered 15 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three assists, while teammates Jay Ruen, Levi Becker and Josh Eversman each scored 11 points to rally No. 1-seeded Fairmont to a 65-56 South Sub-Section semifinal victory over the No. 4-seeded Huskies.
The Cardinals (22-5) advance to earn a rematch with No. 3-seeded Worthington in the Section 3AA, South Sub-Section championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. The defending section champion Trojans (17-8) reached the next round via Marcus Potter's buzzer-beating 3-pointer that capped a 62-59 comeback win over No. 2-seeded Martin County West.
BEHIND THE DEFENSE — Fairmont’s Levi Becker (33) beats Jackson County Central defenders Darnell Taylor-Breck (23), Austin Hinckeldey (15) and Josh Thaemlitz to the basket during Thursday’s Section 3AA, South Sub-Section semifinal game in Windom. Photo by Leanna Becker
Jackson County Central ended its season with a 16-10 record.
"That was a gut-check performance by our guys against a Jackson County Central team that played a great game tonight," said Fairmont head coach Jared Thompson. "They took us out of our offense during the first half, but we had a number of players step up for us, especially during the second half."
Trailing 40-36 at the 8:50 juncture of the second half, the Huskies committed a personal foul while trying to box Eversman off of the offensive boards and then drew an ensuing technical foul.
The Cardinals capitalized when Pfingsten sank two free throws before Justin Barnes banked home a 6-footer in traffic off an Eversman assist to knot the game at 40 via the key four-point swing.
"The technical foul got us even, but they (the Huskies) still managed to pull ahead of us by four points with six and a half minutes left in the game," said Thompson. "The real turning point came after that when we had three different players hit three 3s in a row during the next three minutes or so."
Down 48-44 on the heels of two of JCC guard Taylor Christopher's game-leading 31 points, Ruen drilled a trifecta from the top of the key off an Eversman pass to inch Fairmont within one at the 6:16 mark.
The Cardinals cleared the defensive boards on the ensuing Huskies' possession before Pfingsten spotted Eversman for another 3-pointer to swing a 50-48 lead to the No. 1 seeds with 5:28 remaining.
Christopher tossed in two charity tosses to tie the game one last time at 50 before Barnes spotted Levi Becker for a clutch 3-pointer at the 3:30 juncture.
Christopher and Pfingsten exchanged free throws before Ruen's drive through the heart of the lane extended Fairmont's lead to 57-52 with 1:53 remaining.
Ryan Noll then converted a pivotal one-and-one situation 19 seconds later before Ruen and Pfingsten combined to hit four free throws during the final minute to fend off the Huskies.
Austin Hinckeldey came off the JCC bench to deliver 15 points, while teammate Jon Harmening garnered a game-best 14 rebounds to complement eight points.
Levi Becker and Eversman each grabbed six boards to go with their 11-point performances, Noll supplied six points and four assists, while Barnes added six points off the bench.